A Dictionary of American History

Author: Thomas L. Purvis  | Date: 1995

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) In 1915 Congress funded the National Advisory Commission for Aeronautics to develop advanced technology and engineering for aircraft. In World War II, it worked to improve military aircraft. After 1945, the agency pioneered jet propulsion for attaining faster speeds and higher altitudes. On 14 October 1947, Charles Yeager first broke the sound barrier in the agency’s X-1 jet. After the launch of Sputnik it was reorganized on 29 July 1958 as NASA to oversee the Department of Defense’s aeronautical programs and conduct nonmilitary research for the space race. During the Apollo Project, the number of its employees and outside contractors rose from less than 50,000 in 1961 to about 420,000 by 1966, when its budget peaked at $5.9 billion, and over 20 percent of all federal and private outlays for research went to NASA.

By 1975, US moon exploration had ended, NASA’s budget had shrunk to $3.2 billion, and the manpower employed by the agency was half of its peak level. NASA’s horizons expanded with the Viking Progam to reconnoiter Mars and the Voyager Progam to investigate the outer solar system. On 25 June 1973, NASA’s Project Skylab launched the first US orbiting space station, manned by a three-man crew. To reduce the cost of using space for commercial or scientific purposes, NASA developed the space shuttle, a rocket that can be launched by a missile, serve as temporary skylab, and fly back to land on earth. NASA launched its first space shuttle, Columbia, on 12 April 1981, its second, Challenger, on 4 April 1983, its third, Discovery, on 30 August 1984, and its fourth, Atlantis, on 3 October 1985. These projects enabled NASA to increase its budget to $7.3 billion by 1985, when its prestige was crippled by the explosion of the Challenger and the death of its seven crew members (including a civilian school teacher) on 28 January at Cape Kennedy. This disaster, the world’s worst space-flight catastrophe, forced NASA to suspend space shuttle flights until 29 September 1988. The loss of the Challenger and the end of the cold war led Congress to curtail sharply the expansion of funding for NASA programs. From 1961 to 1994, NASA launched 94 manned missions into space.


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Chicago: Thomas L. Purvis, "National Aeronautics and Space Administration," A Dictionary of American History in A Dictionary of American History (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Reference, 1995), Original Sources, accessed April 13, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SJE68GIW4E7LKE8.

MLA: Purvis, Thomas L. "National Aeronautics and Space Administration." A Dictionary of American History, in A Dictionary of American History, Cambridge, Mass., Blackwell Reference, 1995, Original Sources. 13 Apr. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SJE68GIW4E7LKE8.

Harvard: Purvis, TL, 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration' in A Dictionary of American History. cited in 1995, A Dictionary of American History, Blackwell Reference, Cambridge, Mass.. Original Sources, retrieved 13 April 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SJE68GIW4E7LKE8.