NASA – the US space agency that put man on the moon and has been at the forefront of space exploration – is celebrating its 60th birthday.
Not only has the organisation pushed the boundaries of human knowledge within our solar system and the distant universe, but it has also been crucial to the development of technologies we use on Earth every day.
Here’s a look back on some it’s achievements, setbacks and the contributions its research has made to technological developments.
1958 – Explorer 1
The launch of the first US satellite was a milestone for the budding America space programme, if not for NASA – which didn’t yet exist – nor humanity, which had witnessed the launch of the USSR’s Sputnik 1 a year earlier.
Explorer 1 was created by three scientists who would play crucial roles in the US space programme, William Pickering, James Van Allen, and Wernher von Braun – a former Nazi who was secretly moved to the US along with hundreds of other German scientists after the Second World War.
1961 – Freedom 7
Astronaut Alan Shepard lifts off in the Freedom-7 Mercury Spacecraft on May 5
Alan Shepard was the first American in space, although NASA was again beaten to making a worldwide record by the USSR where Yuri Gargarin had made the journey less than a month earlier.
The mission lasted just 15 minutes and 22 seconds, but it provided NASA with some valuable insights into the challenges that spaceflight would present.
It was watched by an estimated 45 million television viewers in the US alone.
Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3)
Spaceflight Earth observations of a cloudy Earth surface.
Mission control warned Shepard not to wet himself as it could cause the electrical components attached to his body to short circuit.
Eventually, Mr Shepard convinced the team to turn off the electronics and allow him to urinate in his suit – which soon dried out with the oxygen circulating around it.
Thanks to his sacrifice, modern astronauts have the freedom to go to the toilet in their suits.
1968 – Apollo 8
The famous ‘Earthrise’ photo from Apollo 8
Snapped by astronaut Bill Anders, the image gave humans a new perspective on their home planet. He later said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.
1969 – Apollo 11
NASA had been beaten to creating a satellite, and beaten to putting a man in space, but it wasn’t beaten to one of the single greatest achievements humanity could ever consider – landing a man on the moon.
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Just seven months after the Apollo 8 mission, the three Apollo 11 astronauts set off on a mission to land on the moon.
On the morning of 16 July, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins entered into orbit around Earth and three days later were in orbit around the moon.
A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module Eagle and began the descent, while Collins continued to orbit in the command module Columbia.
David Scott salutes beside the American flag on the moon in 1971 as part of the Apollo 15 mission
Collins later wrote that Eagle was “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it remains one of the most iconic contraptions ever seen.
An estimated 530 million people watched the live global broadcast of the moonlanding, which wasn’t broadcast at all in the Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Romania) and went out at 1:56am in the UK.
1970 – Apollo 13
17th April 1970: Apollo XIII recovery operations in the South Pacific. Astronaut and lunar module pilot Fred W Haise Jr is about to be hoisted up to a recovery helicopter from the USS Iwo Jima.
17th April 1970: Apollo XIII recovery operations in the South Pacific
The fear of the number 13 long predated the Apollo mission, but the shocking explosion that rattled Apollo 13 ultimately offered NASA the opportunity to show how cool heads and composure – alongside a lot of good luck – allowed it to conduct one of the most incredible rescue missions that had ever taken place.
1972 – Pioneer 10
Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt
The unmanned flight was the first to fly to Jupiter, Saturn, and the Milky Way galaxy. It was the first to pass through the asteroid belt and went on to make observations and get close-up images of Jupiter.
Pioneer 10 reached speeds of 82,000mph (131,200 kmph) as it passed through the asteroid belt.
It was followed on a similar trajectory by Pioneer 11 in 1973, a year after Pioneer 10.
Pioneer took measurements of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, radiation belts, magnetic field, atmosphere, and interior. It sent its last, very weak, signal back to Earth in January 2003.
1972 – Space Shuttle
The space shuttle launches for the first time in 1981
After the Apollo missions came the era of the space shuttles. NASA originally had a vision of a reusable two-stage vehicle, with a first stage orbiter which would then come back to earth.
But budget issues meant they could not construct a two-stage model. The design which eventually came to life was still used up until 2011.
The first launch was intended to take place in 1976, but it was 1981 before the Space Shuttle Challenger launched.
It orbited for two days in April before safely landing back on Earth, paving the way for the next 30 years of carrying people into space, repairing satellites and conducting research.
1977 – Voyager Golden Record
Pioneer 10 and 11 both carried on them plaques which identified their time and place of origin but NASA were a little more ambitious when it came to Voyager.
The golden record sent sounds of earth into space
It carried on it the Sounds of Earth, a golden record which included greetings spoken in languages from Akkadian spoken about 6,000 years ago, to Wu, a Chinese dialect.
It also included songs from all over the world, including pieces by Bach and Beethoven, and Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry.
It was carried on the Voyager
The Voyager left our solar system in 1990 and it will be about 40,000 years before it comes into contact with another planetary system.
The Golden Record can be bought on vinyl and CD now, and is even available on soundcloud.
1986 – Challenger disaster
In 1986, disaster struck the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Within 73 seconds of the launch, the shuttle “exploded” killing all seven astronauts on board, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe.
According to National Geographic, the tragedy was a complicated one, as the shuttle’s fuel tank collapsed, releasing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. This created a giant fireball in the air.
The Challenger was destroyed shortly after take-off
All seven astronauts on board were killed
The shuttle was still in tact, but broke apart when it couldn’t take the force. The crew cabin separated from the payload pay and the chunks fell and broke up more in the water.
It is not clear when in the process the crew died, as they were likely still alive until the point of impact with the Atlantic Ocean.
1990 – Voyager 1
On 14 February 1990, Voyager 1 took the first ever picture of Earth from Neptune. The family portrait captured Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus.
Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager 1 imaging team, wrote in his book Pale Blue Dot: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
1990 – Hubble Space Telescope launched
In April 1990, the Hubble Space telescope was deployed from the space shuttle Discovery.
Designed by the Marshall space flight centre, it has taken some of the most iconic images of space we know.
The same centre is designing and developing the Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in October 2018.
A planetary nebula named NGC 6302, also known as, Butterfly Nebula and Bug Nebula
The telescope has made more than 1.3m observations since it first began, and travels at 1,700mph in order to take pictures and send them back to Earth.
It’s been back more than 13.4bn lightyears from Earth.
1996 – Mars Pathfinder mission launches
When NASA landed the Pathfinder on Mars, it brought the internet to a standstill, as people desperately clamoured for pictures and information about its journey.
The Pathfinder became a turning point in how the public were able to see information about the missions. The days of waiting for print newspapers to publish images were behind space fans from this point.
NASA Pathfinder Sojourner Rover robotic data gathering vehicle exploring the surface terrain of the planet Mars
The Pathfinder’s mission is to demonstrate the technology and material needed to deliver a lander to Mars in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
The rover, named Sojourner, after American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth, and the Pathfinder both outlived their design lives.
The pathfinder has sent back 2.3 million pieces of information including 16,500 images from the lander and 550 images from the rover.
1998 – International Space Station
The International Space Station is a joint project between the USA, Russia, Japan, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The first part of the ISS was launched into space in 1998, and the last pressurised module was fitted in 2011. It’s expected to be in use until 2028.
The International Space Station is home to astronauts carrying out different types of research
Since it began, 230 individuals from 18 countries have visited the station, and it has been continuously occupied since 2000.
There have been 205 spacewalks since 1998, for construction, maintenance and repair to the station.
The space station travels an equivalent distance to the Moon and back in about a day.
Scientists on board the ISS can be conducting up to 20 payloads at once, including growing plants in space.
The ISS can be seen orbiting the Earth, even from big cities.
2003 – Mars exploration rovers launched
Mars Spirit and Opportunity rovers were launched in 2003 and landed on the red planet in 2004. They are searching for evidence of the history of water on the planet.
They each have panoramic cameras, thermal emission spectrometers, and alpha particle x-ray spectrometers. The tools help them perform on-site geological investigations, which they send back to NASA.
Spirit dropped out of communication with Nasa in May 2011. But it had far outlasted the mission estimate of 90 days.
Nasa last heard from Opportunity in June 2018.
2012 – Mars Curiosity Rover
The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, and is exploring the possibility of life on Mars.
The rover analyses samples from soil and rock, working out how the martian atmosphere looked in the distant past.
In June 2018, the Curiosity found more evidence Mars could have supported ancient life, including “tough” organic molecules in sedimentary rocks, which contain elements like carbon and hydrogen.
Curiosity has also found evidence of water, which is vital to support life.
It found evidence in the Gale Crater for water billions of years ago, which could have supported life on the planet, which is now inhospitable.
2020 – Mars 2020
The rover is going to have 23 cameras, with increased colour and 3-D imagery compared with its predecessors.