National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) boldly goes
where few have gone before (about 560 astronauts and cosmonauts
have been into space). The federal agency's
Aeronautics division conducts research on new flight technologies
while its Exploration Systems works on human and robotic
exploration and its Science unit studies climate, gravitation, and
the atmosphere. The Space Operations division mans and maintains
the International Space Station (ISS) in conjunction with several
other nations; it also ran the Space Shuttle
program until that was retired in 2011.
NASA has around 10 centers and facilities located in Alabama,
California, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio,
Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In all, NASA has headed up more than 100 missions exploring
everything from particles of comet dust to the composition of solar
wind to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the solar system.
Some missions investigate Earth's own atmosphere, oceans, and
ice caps. A few missions are carried out with
international partners, including space agencies from Japan,
the UK, and Europe. Another trend is using private companies
for much of NASA's propulsion research and rocket
NASA's operations are divided into nine segments and divisions:
Aeronautics, Construction and Environmental Compliance and
Support, Education, Exploration, Office of Inspector
General, Science, Space Operations, and Space Technology.
In 2014 the agency had an estimated budget of about $20.3
For the past decade, the agency's mission has changed from
returning to the moon to heading for Mars and other parts of the
solar system. NASA hopes to send astronauts to the Red Planet by
the mid-2030s. To complete the mission, it needs to develop
heavy-lift rockets for long-range spacecraft. One of the primary
steps toward this goal is a proposed mission to find, capture, and
redirect a near-Earth asteroid safely into the Earth-Moon system,
and then send astronauts to explore it.
NASA was founded in 1958, partly in response to Russia's
launch of the Sputnik satellite, to research space and flight
technology. It successfully landed two Americans on the moon
for the first time in 1969.