49 years ago today, President Dwight David Eisenhower signed The National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub.L. 85-568) to create The National Aeronautics and Space Agency, more commonly known as NASA. NASA was created to respond to the challenge of Sputnik.
Though this agency is often criticized, it’s monumental achievements cannot be overlooked. In addition to winning the race to the moon via its Mercury and Apollo programs, NASA has sent probes all over the solar system and into true outer space. Today, NASA’s Rovers wander the surface of Mars, looking for the building blocks of life. NASA built and launched Skylab and is now working on the International Space Station. It has launched numerous satellites that have performed spectacularly, perhaps best symbolized by the Hubble Telescope. It has built the Shuttle, the world’s only, true, spaceship; capable of launching into space (with a 20 ton payload) and returning. And for we Space Elevator afficiandos, let’s not forget that NASA provided the money for Dr. Edwards research which led to the Space Elevator concept we are all working for, not to mention the prize money for the Space Elevator Games. The list of accomplishments goes on and on.
Yes there have been mistakes and failures and people have criticized NASA (perhaps justly, perhaps not) for supposedly taking wrong paths with the ISS and the Shuttle. But NASA is an organization which actually accomplishes great and magnificent things. We take so much of what they do now for granted and we really shouldn’t. Space is hard.
There is little doubt that NASA is going through perhaps their most difficult time now. From constantly changing priorities, to personnel issues that have become soap-opera fodder, to trying to deal with the nascent commercialization of space, it sometimes seems now like they are in a lose-lose situation. But I think we have to step back and take a look at the larger picture and just marvel at what they have actually accomplished and what they continue to do.
Next year is NASA’s fiftieth anniversary and I hope that day is marked by our country with great joy and celebration.
Happy Birthday NASA! Long may you continue to ad astra per aspera.