The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a government agency which runs the civilian arm of the United States space program. NASA was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958. NASA’s establishment was partially in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) in 1957. Under its charter, NASA is supposed to be a peacetime agency that does not perform military functions, although NASA does cooperate with the military and many NASA employees have a military background. The aim of NASA is to increase human understanding of the solar system and the universe that contains it, and to improve American aeronautics ability. To achieve this goal, NASA has an annual budget in the billions to fund programs and pay the tens of thousands of its employees.
NASA conducts its work in four principal organizations, called mission directorates:
- Aeronautics: To improve the ability to explore, NASA pioneers and proves new flight technologies that have practical applications on Earth.
- Exploration Systems: To create new capabilities and spacecraft for affordable, sustainable human and robotic exploration.
- Science: NASA explores the Earth, moon, Mars and beyond; charts the best route of discovery; and reaps the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society.
- Space Operations: provides critical enabling technologies for much of the rest of NASA through the space shuttle, the International Space Station and flight support.
In addition, NASA’s aeronautics team is working with other government organizations, universities, and industries to fundamentally improve the air transportation experience and retain the United States leadership in global aviation. In the next 20 years, NASA will be sending humans not only beyond Earth’s orbit, but further into space.