The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of the biggest and best known scientific organizations in the world. First established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it has become a hugely important research center and arguably one of the largest contributors to human knowledge and exploration. With an annual budget of almost $20 billion, the civilian agency carried out aeronautics and aerospace research, as well as its more famous space exploration missions.
It became famous during the 1960s and 1970s thanks to the Apollo missions that aimed to put a man on the Moon for the very first time and has since focused its efforts on leading other projects to send spacecraft and astronauts into space. This has included the likes of the design and creation of the Space Shuttle, helping to develop the International Space Station, sending out unmanned craft to probe other planets and bodies in the solar system, as well as launching new missions to explore space.
As it has such a long history, in addition to the sheer number of different projects it has worked on, there are plenty of things that people don’t know about NASA. These range from some of the people who have worked there, amazing inventions they were responsible for and bizarre quirks of the agency that simply baffle those who aren’t aware of them.
10. Armageddon Is Used As Training
When it was released in 1998, Armageddon was largely criticized by real-life astronauts and scientists for its inaccuracies and series of events that would be impossible to do in space. It might seem strange then that NASA actually uses the film in training. However, it isn’t so that employees can learn anything in particular from the movie, but rather so that they can try to find as many scientific mistakes as possible to show that they are able to find flaws quickly and efficiently. According to sources, they have so far picked out some 160 errors in total from the movie.
9. They Once Sent A Bonsai Tree Into Space
NASA has a long history of sending plant life into space. This is largely done to see whether they can survive in transit and can grow in zero gravity environments, as long-term missions into space may require astronauts to plant crops and plants to provide food or oxygen. In 2014, they helped Japanese artist Azuma Makoto send a bunch of flowers and a 50-year-old bonsai tree into the stratosphere on the edge of space as cameras captured the ascent. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, neither survived the journey.
8. It Has Its Own Weather System
Located in Florida, the Vehicle Assembly Building is the location where NASA constructs its large space vehicles, such as the Space Shuttle and the Space Launch System. It is one of the largest buildings in terms of volume anywhere in the world and because of this, it even has its own weather system. On humid days, rain clouds can even form on the roof, requiring 10,000 tons of air condition equipment to keep the moisture in the building controlled at all times.
7. Astronauts Struggle To Get Life Insurance
Due to the inherent dangers of travelling into space, many astronauts struggle to get life insurance that would payout in the event of their death. While those working for NASA now will be covered by the same sort of insurance that any federal employee is entitled to, the first astronauts had to resort to other means. As they couldn’t get insurance without paying huge premiums, the likes of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, simply signed lots of memorabilia so that if they did die while travelling to the moon, their families would be able to sell the items.
6. They Created The Technology For Lifeshears
Lifeshears have become one of the most important tools for rescue teams and firefighters. They allow such groups to quickly release people who are trapped inside cars or other structures following an accident. The tool is lightweight and easy to use thanks to the technology provided by NASA. This comes in the form of a power source that allows the agency to detach rocket boosters from the space shuttles after takeoff. The miniature version of this power source is used in the lifeshears to provide enough energy so that it can cut through most material.
5. And Invented Memory Foam
In the 1970s, NASA contracted engineer Charles Yost to help them develop a new material that would help provide protection and support for pilots in the event of crashes or ejections. This led to Yost refining an earlier material he had designed to form a plastic foam. It was not only able to absorb a huge amount of force, but also spread the weight of any person using it, making it far more comfortable than traditional materials used. The memory foam is now used in a wide variety of industries, including safety equipment and beds.
4. There Is An Office For Planetary Protection
NASA also has an official Office For Planetary Protection that has several responsibilities. These include preserving the ability to scientifically study space, agreeing not to contaminate other planets and protecting Earth from other life that might exist in the universe. In particular, they develop special equipment and plans in case astronauts need to bring back alien life to our planet. This is important as any other biological material could prove to be dangerous if brought back to Earth and released into the population.
3. It Actually Has A Small Budget
Although most people in the United States believe that NASA gets a very large proportion of all federal funding from the government, it actually receives far less. The perfection of the public seems to estimate the agency’s budget at around 20% of the total budget when in reality, the actual percentage is just 0.5%. That translates to a budget of around $19.3 billion in 2016. Unfortunately, this relatively low budget means that NASA struggles to realize most of its missions and projects and has to recycle much of its material.
2. They Lost A $125 Million Satellite Due To A Mistake
The Mars Climate Orbiter was a satellite that was designed to record information about the atmosphere of Mars and how weather worked on the planet. Unfortunately, it was lost when it first approached the surface and burned up as it fell through the atmosphere. The reason behind the loss of this $125 million spacecraft was the result of a mistake in the software of the orbital thrusters. They were programmed in pounds but had not been translated to the metric measurement of newtons, leading to it travelling closer to Mars than intended.
1. They Paid Subjects To Lie Down For 70 Days
As part of a study looking into the effects of lying down without moving for extended periods of time, NASA paid a test subject $18,000 to simply lay in bed for 70 days. Drew Iwanicki was the successful applicant for the research and he travelled to Texas to begin in 2015. He had to lie still in the bed in a very specific position while also maintaining a strict sleep routine and diet. However, he was allowed to leave the bed if he needed the toilet and to wash, making the overall experience less stressful.