Full Form of NASA – Brief History of NASA

Full Form of NASA:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA Full Form is National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is a government agency of the USA which is responsible for aerospace research, aeronautics as well as space programs. NASA has been aiding scientists to explore and understand the solar system by sending satellites, space shuttles and humans to space. With head quarters at Washington D.C., NASA has established various centers across the USA with about 18,000 people working for it. Let us shed some light on NASA Full Form.

Brief History of NASA:

NASA was formed in the year 1958 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the USA. Prior to the formation of NASA, there was a federal agency called NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) which was looking after the space activities in the country.

Full Form of NASA - Brief History of NASA
Full Form of NASA – Brief History of NASA

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics:

It was a federal agency of the United States established in 1915 to promote aeronautical research in the country. During 1940 – 1950, NACA was building experimental rocket planes in collaboration with Bell Aircraft Company. The most significant experimental supersonic plane built by this collaboration is Bell X-1. This was built to get some flight data in the transonic speed range conditions. Then there was a challenge for NACA during 1957 – 58 (which is called as International Geophysical Year) to launch a satellite to space. This had led to the Project Vanguard.

Project Vanguard:

It was a program by the Naval Research Laboratory of the USA that had the intension of launching first artificial satellite by using vanguard rocket.

After the launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite by the space super power USSR (expanded as Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1957, there was a crisis in the United States of America (nicknamed as Sputnik Crisis). The American public had some kind of anxiety and fear that there existed a very significant technological gap between USA and USSR. The US Congress strongly felt the threat to national security and the US technology leadership.

In response to the launch of Sputnik, the USA had to restart the Explorers Program that was earlier proposed by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Subsequently the collaboration between the Naval Research Laboratory and Army Ballistic Missile Agency was instrumental in launching Explorer 1, the first satellite by the USA. This feat was achieved after two failures of the launch attempt.

Subsequently in 1958 NACA called for a Special Committee on Space Technology meeting headed by scientist and administrator Horton Guyford Stever. The mandate given to the committee was to coordinate with various departments of the federal government, universities and private companies in the USA to harness the expertise and bring them together to develop a national space program. Finally National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 bill was passed in by the US congress and a new agency called National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which would only focus on space research, was formed.

Thus NACA was dissolved in October 1958 and a new space agency called NASA became operational.

Manned Missions by NASA:

NASA has launched more than 100 successful manned flights since its inception. The following is the brief introduction about various human space flight programs successfully completed by NASA.

Project Mercury:

It was the 1st human space flight program of NASA started in the year 1959. The main goal of this project was to send a human into low earth orbit (before Soviet Union does) and return the person safely. Project Mercury was started immediately after the launch of Sputnik 1 (First man made satellite sent by Soviet Union in the year 1957). As mentioned earlier, the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Russians had created a crisis in the USA which led to the space race.

The Mercury spacecraft was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation and it carried oxygen, food, and water in a pressurized cabin. The launch of Mercury flights had taken place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station which used Atlas D and Redstone missiles. As a safety measure the capsule was fitted to an escape rocket which could take the crew away from the launch vehicle in case there is any failure of the flight. This project was ended in 1963 after putting six US astronauts into space.

Project Gemini:

It was the 2nd human space flight program of NASA started in the year 1961. The main objective of this project was to develop techniques which are required while travelling to space and use those techniques that could support the Apollo mission of landing men on the moon. Project Gemini demonstrated various techniques like extra-vehicular activity, orbital maneuvers, rendezvous and docking. As these techniques were already demonstrated by this project, Apollo pursued with its primary mission and skipped these exploratory operations.

All Gemini flights were launched using a modified Intercontinental Ballistic Missile called Gemini Titan II. The launches took places at the Launch Complex 19 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The robustness of the Gemini was good enough that the United States Air Force had a plan of using it for a Manned Orbiting Laboratory program as well. Project Gemini was ably supported by the astronaut corps which included Mercury Seven, 1963 Astronaut Class and the New Nine (NASA’s Astronaut Group 2). The Project Gemini was ended in the year 1966.

Apollo program (Project Apollo):

It was the 3rd human space flight program of NASA started in the year 1961. The main objective of this project was to put human on the surface of the moon and that goal was achieved successfully in the year 1969. Apollo program was ably supported by the Gemini program that developed key space travel techniques which proved to be crucial for the success of the Project Apollo. Saturn family rockets were used for this project which included three versions namely Saturn I, Saturn V and Saturn IB.

Project Apollo had a major setback in 1967 when fire broke out in the cabin of the Command/Service Module during a launch rehearsal that killed the crew of 3 astronauts. Despite this setback, Apollo program achieved the goal of landing man on the moon with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Launched by the human rated Saturn V from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Apollo 11 was the 5th manned mission by NASA that took a three member crew in a Lunar Module to the Moon. History was made on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed the Lunar Module and walked on the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Subsequently, NASA conducted five Apollo missions that landed 12 men on the surface of the moon and the project was ended in December 1972.


Skylab was the 1st space station of the USA. It had a solar observatory, workshop and other systems. Skylab orbited the Earth between 1973 and 1979. Skylab was launched with the help of Saturn V rocket which had a lift of weight of about 77 tons. NASA conducted three manned missions from 1973 to 1974 and numbers of scientific experiments were conducted. The most notable feat of the Skylab experiments is that the crew was able to find coronal holes in the Sun. It also took thousands of photos of Earth which were used for studying various resources in the earth. However, in 1979 Skylab got disintegrated upon entering the earth’s atmosphere and the project came to an end.

Apollo Soyuz Test Project (shortly ASTP):

ASTP was considered to be the policy of détente (It is a French term which means (“relaxation”). This project marked the end of cold war and space race between the USA and Soviet Union which started in the year 1957. During this project, both the Soviet Union and the USA had conducted joint scientific experiments which paved the way for future collaboration between the two nations including International Space Station and Shuttle – Mir Program.

Shuttle – Mir Program:

It was the joint mission between the United States and Russia in which American space shuttles visited a Russian space station (Mir). This program also allowed the Russian cosmonauts to fly on space shuttles and American astronauts to fly in a Soyuz spacecraft. The intention was to bring together the two space powers and bridge the cold war that existed between the two. There were 11 Space Shuttle missions and a joint Soyuz flight occurred during the period between 1994 and 1998. Shuttle – Mir Program was reckoned to be the stepping stone for the construction of the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle program (Space Transportation System) :

In the history of space technology, Shuttle was the only manned spacecraft which could orbit the low earth, re-enter the earth atmosphere and land safely. NASA has built six vehicles under this program namely Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. This particular program demonstrated re-usable launch vehicle technology as well. However, NASA has retired the space shuttles after facing two fatal accidents which led to the demise of 14 astronauts.

NASA for Student Community :

NASA supports and encourages school students who are academically brilliant and have interest in space science. It has been awarding various internships, fellowships and scholarships to meritorious students to pursue their career in space science and technology. It periodically conducts competitions and workshops for student community as well.