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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. And to do that, thousands of people have been working around the world-and off of it-for more than 45 years.

By Valerie Anderson

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. And to do that, thousands of people have been working around the world—and off of it—for more than 45 years. NASA’s goal is to answer some basic questions, like: What will we find in space? What can we learn there, and will that information make life better here on Earth?

Space 101

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958, partially in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the first artificial satellite. NASA grew out of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, which had been researching flight technology for more than 40 years.

The STS-116 crew members show 

their eagerness for the December 9th nighttime launch as 

they exit the Operations and Checkout Building

The STS-116 crew members show their eagerness for the December 9th nighttime launch as they exit the Operations and Checkout Building.

President John F. Kennedy focused NASA and the nation on sending astronauts to the moon by the end of the 1960s. Through the Mercury and Gemini projects, NASA developed the technology and skills it needed for the journey. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first of 12 men to walk on the moon.

While working on spaceflight, NASA also conducted purely scientific research, working on developing applications for space technology, developing the first weather and communications satellites.

According to NASA’s Web site, it conducts its work in four principle organizations, called mission directorates:


  • Aeronautics: pioneering and proving new flight technologies that improve the U.S.’s ability to explore and have practical applications on Earth.

  • Exploration Systems: creating new capabilities for affordable, sustainable human and robotic exploration.

  • Science: exploring the Earth, moon, Mars and beyond; charting the best route of discovery; and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society.

  • Space Operations: providing critical enabling technologies for much of the rest of NASA through the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and flight support.

Into the Future

In 2004 President George W. Bush set forth NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. The key elements are:


  • safely return the Space Shuttle to flight;

  • complete the International Space Station and retire the Space Shuttle by 2010;

  • begin robotic missions to the moon by 2008 and return people there by 2020;

  • continue robotic exploration of Mars and the Solar System;

  • develop a Crew Exploration Vehicle and other technologies required to send people beyond low Earth orbit.

In September 2005, Administrator Michael Griffin unveiled NASA’s initial plans for implementing the vision, returning to the moon by 2018. Included in the plan is the Crew Exploration Vehicle, NASA’s next spaceship. Combining the best of Apollo and Space Shuttle technology, this new vehicle will replace the shuttle in flying to the International Space Station as well as take a crew of four to the surface of the moon.

Your Career With NASA

image alt text

On Launch Pad 39B, workers inside the payload changeout room monitor the closing of the payload bay doors on Space Shuttle Discovery.

NASA is more than astronauts. It also includes scientists, engineers, computer programmers, personnel specialists, accountants, writers, maintenance workers and many other employees. According to their Web site, NASA was chosen as the “Best Place to Work” in the federal government by The Partnership For Public Service. Some employees work directly for NASA as civil service employees assigned to NASA facilities; some work for their contractors at hundreds of locations throughout the country; some perform research at major universities; and some participate in their numerous educational outreach activities.

At the NASAJobs Web site, you can review job listings, post a resume and even apply for a job online. Also at the Web site, students can find opportunities for internships, cooperative programs and summer employment. In fact, NASA has plenty of ways for students to join the Agency’s mission of exploration. Find out how on the Student Employment Web site: www.nasajobs.nasa.gov.


All information and photos courtesy of NASA's Web site at www.nasa.gov.

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