What is NASA doing in 2018

Background current

NASA was founded on July 29, 1958. In 1969 she made the first manned moon landing. Today the US space agency relies on cooperation with private organizations - and with its former Cold War competitor.

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel on a space walk on June 14, 2018. (& copy picture alliance / ZUMA Press)

It all began with a race in the Cold War arms race: on July 29, 1955, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that the US would send a satellite into orbit as early as 1957. The Soviet Union followed suit with the same announcement only a few days - and won the competition: On October 4, 1957, a Soviet ICBM was launched in Baikonur in southern Kazakhstan and successfully put the "Sputnik1" satellite into orbit. Two months later, the United States failed in an attempt to launch its own satellite into orbit - the launcher crashed after a few seconds.

US politicians were shocked by the success of the Sputnik and saw American security at risk. As a result, the US government decided to create a state agency that should pool all civil space efforts: NASA.

On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. The law is considered the birth certificate of the "National Aeronautics and Space Administration" (NASA). When the law went into effect on October 1, the Washington, D.C. officially their work. In doing so, it was able to fall back on the existing structures of the "National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics" (NACA), which was founded in 1915, a state organization that researched aviation and was integrated into NASA.

With Nazi researchers against the Soviet Union

This meant that NASA had several laboratories and thousands of employees at its disposal from the start. What is special: At that time, numerous scientists who had already served the Nazi regime were doing research at the NACA. As part of the secret project “Operation Overcast” in 1945, after the Second World War, the US government and leading military officials brought hundreds of researchers from Germany to the United States - including rocket experts such as Wernher von Braun.

Many of the German scientists had professed their support for the National Socialists and were either prisoners of war or civilians. But those in charge of the US put the technical qualification above political attitudes and any war crimes. Numerous personnel files were forged and crimes covered up. When processing the personnel files, paper clips were used to mark the finished documents secretly, which is why the researchers were later also called “Paperclip Boys”. In the beginning they were strictly monitored, later the researchers were allowed to act more freely.

In the first few years, NASA was primarily concerned with the question of whether and under what conditions a person can survive in space. The Mercury program, which lasted from 1958 to 1963, was an important basis for the subsequent moon landing. But the Soviet Union was able to expand its supremacy in space exploration for the time being. In 1957, the dog Laika was the first living being to be shot into space, and in 1961 the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed the first manned space flight and once circled the earth. In addition, the Soviet Union succeeded in its first unmanned mission to the moon. In 1963, both states had each sent six people into space, but the Soviets had spent more time in space overall.

Neil Armstrong is the first person on the moon

At the beginning of the 1960s, NASA's budget was massively increased. In 1966, NASA spent nearly $ 6 billion annually, more than 4.4 percent of the total US budget. In July 1969 - after several failed tests and deaths - the time had finally come with the Apollo 11: the American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first person ever to immortalize his footprints on the moon. In the years that followed, five more successful moon landings by NASA astronauts followed - the last one in 1972.

But manned space travel is only part of NASA's activities. The Americans also shoot satellites into space - for commercial use as well as for scientific purposes. NASA does not officially pursue military goals; several institutions of the Department of Defense are responsible for this in the USA. In 1977 NASA sent the "Voyager 1" and "Voyager 2" probes into space to explore the outer planetary system. The mission is a great success. To this day, the two space probes send signals - now even from outside our solar system.

NASA relies on cooperation with the private sector

Manned space travel costs a lot of money. The missiles in particular are expensive. From 1981, NASA therefore sent reusable space shuttles into space. However, the space agency saved on security. In 1987 seven astronauts died in the explosion of the "Challenger" shuttle, followed by another catastrophe in 2003 with the crash of the space shuttle "Columbia", in which another seven astronauts died. As a result, NASA abandoned this technology. Since 2011, she has been using Russian rockets for space flights, especially to the international space station ISS. NASA also works with private US space providers. SpaceX and Boeing recently built a suitable space shuttle. NASA has promised the companies billions of dollars for the projects.

SpaceX, behind which entrepreneur Elon Musk stands, has already sent unmanned space transporters to the International Space Station. Other private companies are also researching into space flight options - some want to venture into space with their rockets, others earn money with tourist flights.

International cooperation

Since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, NASA has also been working more closely with other states and foreign organizations. For example with the European research agency ESA, but also with the Russian space agency Roskosmos. The best-known example of successful cooperation across national borders is the international space station ISS, which is jointly operated by NASA, ESA, Russia, Canada and Japan. And with the help of the Hubble telescope developed by NASA in close cooperation with Europeans and Canadians, mankind was able to take a deep look into distant corners of our universe. For some years now, competition has increasingly come from Asia. India and China are also planning manned flights to the moon.

NASA, on the other hand, has set itself another major goal for 2037: the first manned flight to Mars.

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