NASA, 57 years of shooting for the stars

Science, Technology 2015-07-31

Last Wednesday, July 29th, marked the 57th Anniversary of President Eisenhower authorising the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration orNASA (though officially its birthday is October 1st). It was initially set up in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite. The USA worried that the Soviets would use this to send missiles from Europe to America, so strived to make their own push into space. Since NASA began it has inspired millions of people, myself included, with some of the greatest achievements in modern history and extended the reach of humans to well beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.  I am going to briefly touch upon just a few of my favourite ‘out of this world’ feats that NASA has managed, so far, in their 57 years of existence.


NASA logo. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


1958 Explorer 1 Satellite

The first US satellite to successfully orbit the earth and probably the first major milestone reached by NASA. In the end it actually orbited the earth a head-spinning 56,000 times in the 22 years it was in space. Sent up to study cosmic rays, Explorer 1 actually collected less data than expected. Though this was disappointing it paved the way for the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts that surround the earth. These belts were thought to have caused the anomalies in the data collected by Explorer 1.


Three of the scientists involved in the creation and launch of Explorer 1 Satellite hold a life size replica of it above their heads. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


1969 Moon Landing

On July 21st 1969 one Neil Armstrong uttered those oh so famous words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, forever immortalising him in human history. How could I not put this in here? Man’s first steps on the moon. Apollo 11landed on the moon on July 20th 1969. Just a few hours later on July 21st Neil Armstrong, shortly followed by Buzz Aldrin, exited the spacecraft and spent around 2 and a half hours on the moon collecting samples. Since then there have been 5 more manned missions to the moon giving an additional 10 people the chance to walk on the moon. There have been no manned space missions to the moon since 1972.


Image of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


1972 Pioneer 10

This is an unmanned space probe that was initially launched to get closer to Jupiter. It was the first man-made aircraft to successfully make it through the asteroid beltbetween Mars and Jupiter. It successfully completed this mission taking around 500 pictures of Jupiter and some of its satellites between 1973 and 1974.  After exiting the shadow of Jupiter it continued out further into the solar system on its ‘Pioneer Interstellar mission’. It has since crossed the orbit of Neptune and Pluto and became the first man-made object to leave the solar system. It was also the most distant man-made object from the sun until the Voyager 1 probe passed it in 1998. When connection was lost with it in 2003 it was about 12 billion km away from earth.


A picture of Jupiter taken by Pioneer 10. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


1990 Hubble Space Telescope Launch

This, for me, is a personal favourite. Launched into orbit outside the Earth’s atmosphere in 1990, and still orbiting, the Hubble telescope is able to look deep in space and time. It has been instrumental in determining the rate of expansion of the universe and has taken many iconic pictures from galaxies far and near.


The Hubble telescope took this picture, of the most crowded place in our galaxy, in 2015.  Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


1998 International Space Station (ISS)

Ok so this one technically isn’t just down to NASA, but it’s still really cool. Russia had a large part to play and so did 13 other countries that also sent modules to the ISS. Though the ISS isn’t the first space station to be built it is by far the most advanced and most successful of them. It has been continuously manned since and is now run as collaboration between 5 space agencies. It produces research on how to survive in space amongst other things and allows repairs to be carried out on satellites and telescopes also in orbit.


A view of the ISS from above. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).


2004 Opportunity Rover and 2011 Curiosity Rover

In all honesty I could have picked any of the several robots that NASA has sent to Mars, all are amazing accomplishments. However there are two that are still operational on the surface of Mars, one is the Opportunity, and the other is the Curiosity rover.  Opportunity recently completed a marathon of movement (26.2 miles) in just over 11 years since it landed. Its mission has lasted 45 times longer than initially planned. Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 and has been slowly moving around Gale crater. Both have been taking pictures and collecting samples to establish the geology and climatic conditions that currently exist and previously occurred on Mars.  Both are feats of engineering and continue to enable us to gather more information on the history of parts of our solar system.

mars pic

Picture taken by the Curiosity rover. Image sourced from: (Credit: NASA).

If this all wasn’t already enough I believe that one of NASA’s greatest achievements, up there with all of these things, is enabling us all to see just some of what is out there. They have shared as much as possible with the people of this earth, from broadcasting the first steps on the moon live to now just broadcasting almost every rocket launch and space walk. With the scope of social media websites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on it is easier than ever now to connect ordinary people to the rest of the universe. Pretty much every astronaut that goes up to the ISS now tweets daily posting photos and updates of their time up there. Some go the extra mile with Commander Chris Hadfield singing his own cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ whilst there, turning him into an internet sensation.  With social media use only expanding further and further we can look forward to more and more of this breath-taking content in the future.


Scott Kelly, one of the astronauts currently on the ISS, tweets his view of earth. Image sourced from: (Credit: Scott Kelly).


NASA has completed an incredible amount in the last 57 years and I for one hope it continues to inspire new generations to keep looking to the stars.


Share with me what your favourite NASA photos, videos, projects and moments are by tweeting me at @JordanAtNotch!