Since the inception of NASA in 1958, their goals and objectives have always been monumental. They planned to expand overall human knowledge of space, maintain the lead in space technological innovation, design vehicles that could carry both living organisms and state of the art equipment into space and collaborate with international space agencies in order to produce the greatest scientific advancements.
In the last 50 years, NASA has in fact achieved all of these goals. NASA continues to search for answers to the mysteries of science as it continues to evolve among the ever changing world we live in. All of the hard work NASA does benefits all of mankind, their enormous budget is spent here on Earth, supporting the economy and creating spin-off technologies that greatly improve our quality of life.
Here is our list of NASA’s 10 greatest achievements.
10. Explorer 1
Explorer 1 was the first ever US satellite and was launched on January 31, 1958 roughly a year after the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 and 2 launched, which as a result was the beginning of the Cold War Space Race between the two nations. Explorer 1 was the first spacecraft to discover the Van Allen radiation belt, by returning data it collected over the course of four months. The discovery of the radiation belts is credited to NASA scientist James Van Allen due to his findings by using his Geiger-Muller tube on satellites, Explorer 1, Explorer 3, and Pioneer 3. Explorer 1 remained in orbit until 1970 and has since been followed by over 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.
Kepler is a space observatory that NASA launched on March 7, 2009 in the hopes of discovering Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. Kepler’s main instrument is a photometer which frequently watches for the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars within a fixed field of view. The data Kepler finds is then transmitted to Earth and analyzed to detect the periodic dimness caused by extrasolar planets, the ones that move in front of their host star.
As of January of 2015, the data collected from Kepler have found 1,013 confirmed exoplanets along with 3,199 unconfirmed potential planet candidates. Three of the confirmed exoplanets were found inside habitable ones of their associated stars. Two of the planets, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b are close to Earth size and are most likely rocky while another exoplanet discovered named Kepler-440b is actually a super-Earth.
Synchronus Transport Signal level 1 (STS-1) was NASA’s initial orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program. Columbia, the first orbiter launched on April 12, 1981 and returned 54.5 hours later, after orbiting Earth a total of 37 times. The crew consisted of mission commander John W. Young and pilot Robert L. Crippen. This was, in fact, America’s first manned space flight since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project back in 1975. Interestingly enough, the launch took place on the 20th anniversary of the first-ever manned spaceflight. This was a complete coincidence because the STS-1 was scheduled to launch two days prior but due to a technical problem it was delayed.
7. Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope was originally launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and still remains in operation today. Hubble is a space telescope that orbits outside of Earth’s atmosphere, allowing it to take incredible high-resolution images with close to no background light. Hubble has recorded some of the most visible light images ever, which has allowed astronomers to look into space and time more effectively. It has led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.
6. Mars Rovers
A Mars rover is an automated motor vehicle that actuates itself across the surface of the red planet upon its arrival. The first robot rover to land on Mars was the Pathfinder’s Sojourner Rover, it officially touched down onto Mars’ surface on July 6, 1997. The goal of the Pathfinder’s mission was supposed to be to prove the viability of unmanned exploration of Mars. Pathfinder was the first spacecraft ever to land on a planet without orbiting it first. The mission was a complete success as it returned with over 2.3 billion pieces of data to bring back to NASA to observe, over 17,000 photos among them. To date, there have been four successful Mars rovers, Mars Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. As of January 24, 2014 Opportunity and Curiosity have been searching for evidence of previous life and ancient water. As of right now the search for habitability on the red planet is NASA’s main objective.
5. Chandra X-Ray Observatory
The Chandra space telescope launched back in 1999 and has been overly instrumental in NASA’s mission for X-ray astronomy. In its fifteen plus years in operation Chandra has given us a unique view of the Universe, one that is greatly hidden from telescopes that are sensitive to visible light. Chandra is one of NASA’s four “Great Observatories” along with the Spitzer Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Chandra is quite sensitive to X-ray sources 100 times dimmer than any other previous X-ray telescope, mainly because of the high angular resolution of its mirrors.
4. Freedom 7 – The first American in Space
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard left earth and was named the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. Just to be clear, Shepard wasn’t the first human to journey into space- that was a great accomplishment by no other than Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin. In fact, Alan Shepard launched into space just 23 days after Gargarin’s accomplishment, Shepard from that moment became NASA’s passage into the annals of manned space flight and set the bar tremendously high for many astronauts to follow in his place. Shepard launched at 9:34 am aboard the Freedom 7 capsule, which was powered by a Redstone booster, his historic flight lasted a total of 15 minutes and 28 seconds.
3. International Space Station
The construction of the ISS began in 1998 and has been occupied by researchers since 2000. The first crew arrived in 2000 and ever since astronauts have lived on the space station. NASA and partners from all over the world completed the construction of the space station in 2011. Astronauts in the ISS research how to live in space, and how future missions to the moon and Mars can be achieved effectively and efficiently. The research conducted on the ISS is not just beneficial for astronauts, but for us on Earth too.
Astronauts have discovered useful things such as how to overcome bone loss on Earth through their research. It’s a known fact that missions to space that last a number of weeks can and have achieved phenomenal results. We are able to service satellites and telescopes, reach the moon, and conduct a number of tests on equipment. But when it comes to exploring other planets and the mystery of our solar system, that of course, requires a lot more time than a few weeks, perhaps months or even years. No, the International Space Station (ISS) isn’t the first space station, but it is definitely the most impressive.
2. Apollo 13
On April 11, 1970, the spacecraft launched and 55 hours and 55 minutes later an explosion occurred that shut down nearly every system necessary to sustain life on board of the craft.
It all started with an explosion with one of the engines shutting down within two minutes of lift-off. The event that took place due to the explosion is one of the most amazing collective rescues in history. A string of potentially tragic events occurred and it was a miracle that the crew- astronauts James Lovell, Fred Hayes and John Swirget survived.
One of the two oxygen tanks blew up and the force of the explosion caused the second oxygen tank to break down. Soon after, two of the spacecraft’s three fuel cells shut down. This now meant that Apollo 13 was unleashing oxygen into space and all of their life support-power, water, light, heat and oxygen were offline.
The bravery and cleverness of the men on board and all of the people involved in the rescue mission is a true testament to the intelligence mankind is capable of demonstrating. In order to conserve what was left of their life support, the astronauts survived on nearly no food, water and sleep while the temperature on the craft nearly dropped to freezing. In less than six days, the crew members lost a combination of 31.5 pounds because of dehydration.
While all this was taking place, NASA technicians at mission control finally found a way to get the astronauts home. They worked their fingers to the bone, doing calculations over the course of 6 days that would normally take months to complete, and as a result, they found a way to get the lunar module to support the crew and send them back to Earth.
1. Apollo 11
Apollo 1 was the first manned mission of the lunar landing mission but it never made its target date. The mission was a complete disaster and killed all three astronauts on board due to a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal. In the next two years, NASA ran a total of nine more missions, and tested a variety of different aspects of the operation. Apollo 11 was the first mission that finally landed men on the moon (yes, that’s right, for all of you Apollo conspiracy theorist out there, we did in fact land on the moon).
When astronaut Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon’s surface and uttered the legendary words; ” One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the world was watching in awe and some in disbelief because it was in fact such an incredible feat. Shortly after, Buzz Aldrin followed and the two became the first humans to stake claim onto Earth’s only natural satellite- the moon. While all this was happening, the third crew member, astronaut Michael Collins, stayed in orbit in the Columbia command module. Since Apollo 11 only ten more people have stepped onto the moon’s surface.
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