What is NASA? Everything You Need to Know About the Space Administration

30 May 2017

NASA does a lot more than space exploration. This article is here to answer any questions you may have about the ever important space administration.

(Source: NASA)(Source: NASA)


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded in 1958 at the height of the Cold War. Congress and President Eisenhower founded NASA in response to the need for national defense. Russia was developing its own space exploration program and had just launched Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, so the United States needed to keep up. NASA was signed into law on July 29, 1958, and they were officially open on Oct. 1, 1958.

NASA was critical to what is now referred to as the Space Race during the Cold War. The Space Race between Russia and the United States was gaining momentum as each nation waited to see which country would launch a human into space and begin exploring the unknown territory. When Russia launched Sputnik 1 into space on Oct. 4, 1957, United States citizens were scared. They feared a technological gap between the U.S. and Russia and called for faster technological advances. NASA was created as a direct result of this panic.

NASA absorbed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which provided 8,000 employees, a budget of $100 million, three major research laboratories and two small test facilities. Today, NASA has ten centers located around the country.

NASA didn’t spend any time sitting around – it immediately got to work. Within the first twenty years, the agency kicked off several major programs including:

  • Human space flight initiatives
  • Robotic missions to the Moon, Venus, Mars and outer planets
  • Aeronautics research in order to enhance air transport safety, reliability, efficiency and speed
  • Remote-sensing Earth satellites for information gathering
  • Applications satellites for communications and weather monitoring
  • An orbital workshop for astronauts
  • A reusable spacecraft for traveling to and from Earth orbit

Since the end of the Cold War, NASA has not stopped exploring space and developing technologies. It launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. It was the U.S.’s first telescope in space orbit. Since the launch of Hubble, it has gathered 1.3 million observations, many of which have led to NASA’s major breakthroughs. They even teamed up with Russia in 1994 and launched a Russian astronaut into space on an American aircraft and in 1995 they linked up the Atlantis and Mir space stations.

NASA does not only have accomplishments in space. It is responsible for many innovative inventions that are in found in every household today.

Five Technological Advances that Began at NASA

1) The Insulin Pump

Researchers on the Mars Viking spacecraft were worried about what travelling farther into space might do to astronauts' health and bodies. They set out to find a way to monitor an astronaut’s health even in space. Experts at the Goddard Space Flight Center created a device to monitor a person’s blood sugar levels and send signals that would release insulin into their body. And thus the insulin pump was invented.

2) Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants were created in the late '70s by Adaam Kissiah Jr., an engineer in NASA's space shuttle program. Kissiah knew that NASA was growing in the area of telemetry, electronic sensing systems and sound and vibration centers. He decided to use his knowledge and all of the technology available to him to create a better hearing device. From there, he came up with an implant that would send out digital pulses that stimulate auditory nerve endings, transmitting signals to the brain. He had invented the cochlear implant. This invention was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2003.

3) Solar Panels

Renewable energy is important to NASA. It is so important that NASA created the Environmental Research Aircraft and Technology Union. The original goal of this union was to build a remotely piloted aircraft to fly unmanned at high altitudes for long periods of time. During their research, they discovered that this aircraft would need a way to gain power while in the air. They needed to harness solar power to keep the aircraft in the air. They invented the single-crystal silicon solar cells, which are now commercially available. Without NASA, solar energy may not have been invented.

4) Water Purification Systems

In the 1970s, NASA was looking for a way to purify the astronaut’s drinking water on space crafts. They partnered with Umpqua Research Company (URC) and together they created the microbial check valve (MCV), which used iodine to purify the astronaut’s drinking water. After using it in space, NASA decided to make this technology commercially available to help developing countries obtain clean water.

5) Food Safety Systems

NASA was worried about the quality of the food that the astronauts were eating during their time in space. The problem that they faced was making sure that the food that the astronauts were taking with them wouldn’t spoil. They weren’t even sure what they could send with them. NASA teamed up with the Pillsbury Company to create something that would get rid of crumbs that might contaminate the space station and guarantee that the astronauts’ food was free of harmful bacteria and toxins. The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) was invented. The HACCP is used today by the Food and Drug Administration in the handling food.

NASA has developed many important innovations since its creation in the '50s, from space exploration to health care technology. Every American’s life has been affected by NASA in some way. To learn more about NASA, visit the website here.

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