NASA Fast Facts
Here’s a look at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the United States government agency that conducts research into space. There are 10 major NASA installations, including the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
October 4, 1957 – The Soviets launch Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite.
October 1, 1958 – The official start of NASA.
October 7, 1958 – NASA announces Project Mercury. The Mercury project’s objectives are to place a human spacecraft into orbital flight around Earth, observe human performance in such conditions, and recover the human and the spacecraft safely.
April 9, 1959 – The Mercury Seven are introduced as the first US astronauts: Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.
May 5, 1961 – Freedom 7, the first piloted Mercury spacecraft carrying Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., is launched from Cape Canaveral. It is the first American space flight involving human beings.
February 20, 1962 – Glenn becomes the first American to circle the Earth, making three orbits in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft.
March 23, 1965 – The first operational mission of Project Gemini takes place, under the command of Mercury astronaut Grissom.
June 3-7, 1965 – The second piloted Gemini mission, GT-4, stays aloft for four days. Astronaut Edward H. White II performs the first extra-vehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk by an American.
January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 catches fire during a dress rehearsal, and the three astronauts aboard, Lt. Col. Grissom, Lt. Col. White, and Roger B. Chaffee, are killed.
December 24, 1968 – Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders become the first humans to orbit the moon.
July 16-24, 1969 – Apollo 11 goes to the moon. On July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. lands on the lunar surface, while Michael Collins orbits overhead in the Apollo command module. Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon.
April 11-17, 1970 – During the flight of Apollo 13, an oxygen tank ruptures and damages several of the electrical and life support systems. The astronauts and NASA engineers on the ground find that the Lunar Module, a self-contained spacecraft unaffected by the accident, can be used as a “lifeboat” to provide austere life support for the return trip. The crew returns safely on April 17, 1970.
July 15-24, 1975 – The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project is the first human space flight mission managed jointly by two nations. It is designed to test the compatibility of rendezvous and docking systems for the United States and Soviet spacecraft in order to open the way for future joint human flights.
April 12, 1981 – Astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen fly Space Shuttle Columbia on the first flight of the Space Transportation System (STS-1). Columbia becomes the first airplane-like craft to land from orbit for reuse.
June 18, 1983 – Astronauts Robert L. Crippen and Frederick H. Hauck pilot Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7) on a mission to launch two communications satellites and the reusable Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS 01). Sally K. Ride, one of three mission specialists on the flight, becomes the first American woman astronaut.
January 28, 1986 – The Challenger explodes 73 seconds after launch as a result of a leak in one of the solid rocket boosters. All seven crew on board die Commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, three mission specialists, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a teacher selected through the teacher in the space program.
April 24-29, 1990 – During the flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31) the crew deploys the Hubble Space Telescope.
February 3-11, 1995 – Exactly one year after a major cooperative flight with the Russians in STS-60, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery, this time STS-63, flies another historic mission featuring the flyby of the Russian Mir Space Station. It is also the first time that a woman pilot, Eileen M. Collins, commands the Space Shuttle.
July 4, 1997 – The Mars Pathfinder lands on Mars. Two days later, the Sojourner Rover rolls out of the Pathfinder and onto Mars’s surface, where it soon begins transmitting pictures of Mars back to Earth.
November 2, 2000 – The first permanent crew, Expedition One, arrives at the International Space Station (ISS).
February 1, 2003 – The space shuttle Columbia on mission STS-107 disintegrates during reentry, and all seven crew members on board are killed: Commander Rick Husband, pilot Willie McCool and mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Mike Anderson, David Brown and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon.
August 31, 2006 – NASA awards Lockheed Martin a contract to build a manned lunar spaceship called Orion.
December 4, 2006 – NASA announces plans for a permanent astronaut settlement on the moon’s south pole by the mid 2020s.
September 2010 – Shuttle fleet, Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour are set to be retired from service.
October 11, 2010 – President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 bill, which includes funds for commercial space programs, authorization for a heavy-lift launch vehicle, and approval of an additional shuttle launch before the fleet retires.
December 2, 2010 – NASA scientists announce the discovery of an arsenic-eating bacteria found in California’s Mono Lake, expanding the traditional notions of sustainable life.
August 5, 2011 – Mission Juno, an unmanned spacecraft launches. The arrival in Jupiter’s atmosphere is scheduled for August 2016 and the mission’s end is to be October 2017. Investigations into the formation and evolution of the planet, its cloud cover, magnetic and gravitational fields will be performed in an effort to further understand the formation of Earth.
July 2, 2012 – NASA unveils Orion, the agency’s newest manned spaceship. Orion’s first mission with the crew aboard is scheduled for 2021.
August 6, 2012 – The $2.6 billion rover, Curiosity, successfully lands on target on Mars.
September 12, 2013 – Scientists confirm that Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has crossed into interstellar space.
July 23, 2015 – NASA’s Kepler spacecraft locates “Earth’s bigger, older cousin.” The planet Kepler-452b is about 1,400 light-years from Earth in the Cyngnus constellation.
July 4, 2016 – After an almost five-year journey, the Juno space probe successfully enters Jupiter’s orbit.
May 31, 2017 – NASA announces it will launch its first mission to the sun in the summer of 2018. The Parker Solar Probe will explore the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. The probe is built to withstand heat and radiation never before experienced by any spacecraft. Researchers say the mission will help scientists understand the sun in greater detail and help shed light on Earth.
July 12, 2017 – NASA releases photos of Jupiter, taken as Juno flies by the planet’s Great Red Spot. The spot is actually a giant storm, with clouds that span 10,000 miles wide.
April 18, 2018 – The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, is launched from Cape Canaveral. The job of TESS is to find exoplanets that can be studied.
August 12, 2018 – The Parker Solar Probe launches. It is expected to orbit within 3.9 million miles of the sun by 2024.
July 2019 – NASA announces TESS has spotted a new exoplanet called GJ 357 d, located 31 light-years away, that might be able to support life.
May 30, 2020 –SpaceX and NASA launch Falcon 9, carrying two astronauts into orbit, the first launch from US soil since 2011.
June 24, 2020 – NASA announces it is renaming its Washington, DC, headquarters after Mary W. Jackson, the agency’s first Black female engineer who helped inspire the story behind the book and film “Hidden Figures.”
July 30, 2020 –NASA launches the rover Perseverance from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a February 2021 landing on Mars. The rover will search for evidence of ancient life and will bring samples of Martian rock back to Earth.
October 20, 2020 – After orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touches down and reaches out its robotic arm to collect a sample from the asteroid’s surface. That sample will be returned to Earth in 2023.
November 15, 2020 –A SpaceX spacecraft launches from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, marking the kick-off of what NASA hopes will be years of the company helping to keep the ISS fully staffed. This is a landmark mission for NASA and the company because it is the first fully operational crewed mission for SpaceX.
Photo: NASA posted this snap of astronaut James H. Newman on November 20, 1998, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station.