Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. This month, the United States space agency celebrates its
fiftieth anniversary. Today we tell
about some of the high and lows of those fifty years.
established on July twenty-ninth, nineteen fifty-eight when President Dwight D.
Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. The agency was
created mainly because of competition between the United States and the former
Soviet Union had become the first country to put an object into orbit around
the Earth. The successful launch of the
Sputnik satellite on October fourth, nineteen fifty-seven marked the start of
"the space race."
began operations on October first, nineteen fifty-eight from headquarters in
Washington, D.C. Its first major goal
was to show that people could survive and work in space. This was called Project Mercury. NASA chose
seven military pilots to be the nation's first astronauts.
April, nineteen sixty-one, the Soviets put Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the
Earth. NASA had been beaten to its
first goal. Soon, however, President
John F. Kennedy gave NASA a greater goal, bigger than anyone had considered at
that time. He made this statement on May twenty-fifth, nineteen sixty-one.
PRESIDENT JOHN KENNEDY: "I
believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before
this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to
the Earth. No single space project in
this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important to the
long-range exploration of space. And
none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
Mercury was a success scientifically and in the opinion of the American public.
All of the first six space flights were in small one-man capsules. Tom Wolfe wrote a book about the first
astronauts and their flights, called "The Right Stuff." These brave
astronauts became American heroes. They
included John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth in nineteen
step was Project Gemini. These
spaceships could hold two men. The
flights showed that astronauts could fly in space, do complex tasks like
linking with other space vehicles and even work outside their spacecraft.
Apollo was NASA's biggest effort up to that time. The Apollo spacecraft could hold three astronauts. It was powered by a huge Saturn Five rocket,
the first rocket designed by NASA only for space exploration. But the project began with tragedy. In early nineteen sixty-seven, three
astronauts were killed in a fire while testing Apollo One.
scientists learned important lessons from the disaster and the following missions
were successful. The most exciting one
was Apollo Eleven. It landed astronauts
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon's Sea of Tranquility. Hundreds of millions of people around the
world watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon on July twentieth,
NEIL ARMSTRONG: "That's
one small step for man. One giant leap
more flights landed on the moon, ending with Apollo Seventeen in nineteen
seventy-two. A total of twelve Americans walked on the moon. Steven Dick,
NASA's chief historian, has written about the effect of the Apollo project on
society, especially its view of Earth from the moon. He wrote: "The photographs of 'Earthrise", and of the
full Earth as a blue marble suspended in space, fragile and without national
boundaries, changed humankind's view of Earth forever."
success of Apollo ended the space race.
It also provided a chance for Americans and Soviets to join in the first
international space flight, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July of nineteen
seventy-five. The project was the start
of cooperation in space. It was also
the end of the first part of NASA's manned spaceflight program.
nineteen seventy-two, President Richard Nixon approved a completely new space
project. It would be the world's first
reusable space vehicle. The project was
the space shuttle program--officially known as the Space Transportation
System. Shuttle Columbia, one of five
orbiters, made the first flight of the program in April, nineteen eighty-one.
space shuttle program has carried many satellites into orbit. It has launched several space exploration
vehicles such as the Galileo and Magellan spacecraft. The shuttle also put the Hubble Space telescope into orbit and
has serviced the thirteen-meter-long telescope four times. Hubble has discovered planets beyond our solar
system and confirmed black holes. It
has even helped scientists know the exact age of the universe.
space shuttle program is closely linked with international efforts to have a
permanent presence in space. The
shuttle has helped build the International Space Station whose first crew
arrived in November of two thousand.
The Space Station is expected to be completed in two thousand ten. That year will also be the last for space
NASA's space shuttle program has also been marked with tragedy. In January of nineteen eighty-six, the
shuttle Challenger exploded seventy-three seconds after launch, killing all
seven astronauts. Two years later, the
shuttle program returned and flew eighty-seven successful missions. But tragedy
struck again in February, two thousand three.
The shuttle Columbia came apart while reentering the Earth's atmosphere.
Seven more astronauts died. These
incidents remind everyone of the risk of space travel and the bravery and
sacrifice of the astronauts.
last fifty years, NASA has sent robotic spacecraft to the moon and all the
planets. In the nineteen sixties, the
space agency first started to explore other planets with the Mariner
probes. A series of Mariner spacecraft
visited the planet Venus. Years later,
the Magellan spacecraft mapped Venus in great detail.
nineteen seventy-four, Mariner Ten visited Mercury, the closest planet to the
sun. NASA returned to Mercury in two
thousand eight with the Messenger spacecraft.
the most successful of NASA's robotic explorers are the Voyager One and Two
spacecraft. They built on the success
of the earlier Pioneer Ten and Eleven.
Voyager One visited Jupiter and Saturn.
Two added Uranus and Neptune to the list of planets NASA has visited. It discovered rings and many new moons
orbiting those worlds. Today, Voyager
One has traveled farther than any other object made by humans. It is almost sixteen billion kilometers from
the sun, beyond the reach of the flow of particles known as the solar wind.
Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn have
greatly increased our knowledge of the two giant planets.
visited Mars more often than any other planet.
Mars continues to interest scientists searching for life because it is
known to have water. Mariner spacecraft
first visited the planet in the nineteen sixties. In the mid nineteen seventies, the Viking One and Two spacecraft
returned detailed pictures of the red planet.
The Viking project also put landers on Mars and tested its soil.
than twenty years later, NASA returned to Mars with its Global Surveyor. Several missions to Mars during this period
failed. But spacecraft like the Mars
Odyssey and the Mars Exploration Rovers have gathered huge amounts of information
about the planet. The Mars rovers,
Spirit and Opportunity, continue to operate on the red planet along with the
Phoenix Mars Lander.
had time to discuss only a few of the most interesting programs of NASA's past
and present. Today, NASA is a huge
agency with almost nineteen thousand employees who work at ten main centers
around the country. Its budget for two
thousand nine is about seventeen and a half billion dollars.
already planning the next generation of exploration vehicles. They include the Orion Crew Exploration
Vehicle and a reusable moon lander. And
NASA plans to establish a center to produce power on the moon by two thousand
return to the moon is only the first small step. Anyone who works for NASA will tell you that Mars is the next
goal for human spaceflight. And there
is no reason to think that the urge to explore will end after that goal is
program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Barbara Klein.
Steve Ember. For more information about NASA, visit our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special