Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterMost likely, you have heard of NASA, the agency in charge of America’s space program. The agency has put a man on the Moon, helped launch the Hubble Telescope, and sent up dozens of probes and shuttles. However, do you know what the acronym NASA actually stands for? NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA is a United States government agency that runs America’s space program. NASA also has various programs on Earth to improve air flight, hence the “Aeronautics” in the agency’s name.
The organization was established after the Soviets launched the first satellite – Sputnik 1 – into space in order for America to compete with the Soviets and get our own satellites into space. A special committe of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was created to formulate a plan for forming a space agency. In addition to NACA, other groups were also trying to solve the problem; both a Senate committee led by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and a group the White House created were working on a solution, although they were more interested in a military aspect.
NACA developed the concept of NASA from late 1957 to 1958. It was decided that the agency would be very similar to NACA, but the name should be changed. The organization was founded on July 29, 1958 with the passing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower. The employees and facilities that had been NACA were incorporated into NASA. NASA handles all nonmilitary space matters. The United States Air Force, the Army, and the Navy all tried to gain control of running a manned space program right after NASA was founded because it had not been decided that NASA would run a manned program. However, NASA did gain charge of a manned space program as well.
NASA just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year and during its existence, it has adapted to fit changing times. For example, in recent years, the agency has become more concerned in environmental issues, such as the ozone layer. The agency has also changed its motto and logo over the years to reflect changing needs.
For more information, check out history of NASA and the history of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Astronomy Cast has an episode on NASA’s mission to Mars.