Soon after the launching of the U.S. space program, there was a general concern with regards to the USSR's superiority in terms of space control that was seen to be an indirect threat to the national security of the U.S. This resulted to the replacement of NACA by NASA otherwise known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958. One of the key objectives behind the formation of NASA was in an attempt to have a strong peaceful purpose in space exploration. "With respect to this, the general public stared becoming aware of the usefulness and the importance of the satellites that aided in space navigation, weather forecasting as well as gathering information that was beneficial to national security" (An Illustrated History of NACA and NASA). In the month of October 1958, NASA made an announcement regarding Project Mercury which was one of the major undertakings of NASA's space programs in the U.S.
Prior to the creation of NASA, there was a lot of pressure on the U.S. National Defense Department particularly after the 2nd World War. This is because, this period was characterized by both ideological and allegiances contest specifically by non-aligned nations and space exploration emerged as one of the areas of major contest acquiring the name space race. The first major step in the world of exploration had earlier taken place during the late 1940s when the then president of the U.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower approved of a plan to orbit a scientific satellite which was to part of the International Geophysicist Year.
In an attempt to prove their skills in space programs and navigation, the Soviets launched their world's first artificial satellite known as Sputnik 1 a move that questioned the U.S. capability to keep up with the competition. However, the U.S. responded by launching their first earth satellite known as Explorer 1 which documented the existence of radiation zones encircling the earth which later came to be known as the Van Allen Radiation Belt. The U.S also embarked on numerous programs to the moon and other planets in an attempt to showcase their prowess in space programs and navigation.
In 1961, the then president of the United States John F. Kennedy announced the impending mission to the moon by the country's space program. President Kennedy promised the American citizens that U.S. astronauts would undoubtedly land to the moon before the decade was over. This overall project achieved both moral and technical boost as a result of subsequent space programs such as Project Gemini and Project Apollo. "One of the greatest challenges that space astronauts faced during this period was that they did not have any prior experience and amid fears that food might explode when subjected to mow gravity; food eaten by early astronauts was in form of paste like substances squeezed form something like toothpaste tubes". (An Illustrated History of NACA and NASA) The ultimate goal by NASA was to send people to the moon something that even the Russian space program had failed to achieve. This goal was achieved in 1969 when the first American Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.
The 'going to the moon project' will go down in history as one of the greatest achievements by NASA. President J.F. Kennedy was said to use the Apollo project to showcase the U.S.'s capability in the world of scientific and technological superiority over its cold was adversaries. The Apollo project cost NASA an estimated $25.4 billion to make it a reality. However, this project did not go through without some challenges particularly the fire in the Apollo capsule that took the lives of Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Edward H. White Jr. Jr. Despite this few setbacks, the program went on to achieve is overall goal of moon exploration. There was a series of subsequent successful missions by NASA on the moon with some of the moon projects displaying just how NASA was capable of handling unprecedented occurrences during space exploration. "One practical example of this was the program in 1970 when astronauts and ground crews had to improvise to end the mission safely after an oxygen tank burst midway through the journey to the Moon" (An Illustrated History of NACA and NASA)
The period between 1969 and 1972 will go down in history as one of the period that oversaw remarkable developments in space exploration. NASA in an attempt to reduce cost of space flight developed completely reusable space vehicles in an attempt to make launches routine relatively cheap. One of the reasons why the previous space vehicles were perceived to be more costly is because of their general design in that they used the expandable launch-system technology. This is mainly due to the fact that a space vehicle was used and later discarded but a new technology would undoubtedly change this pattern. The original idea of space exploration by the use of vehicles hat merely resembled the airplanes rather than rockets was initially developed prior to the 1st world war by one Wernher von Braun. According to Wernher, the U.S. was supposed to create a space station and supply the same with space vehicles that resemble what is currently the space shuttle.
"By the late 1960s, NASA was generally concerned about its future particularly after the completion of Apollo Mission" (An Illustrated History of NACA and NASA). The completion of this mission resulted to a depleted budget and the main concern by Wernher was that there would be a significant staff reduction if no new project came up. One of the basis behind the creation of space shuttles was that this approach was regarded to be very cost efficient. One of the developments by NASA the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo mission cost NASA an estimated $186 billion. This was at a time that such an amount was perceived to be a very huge amount of money. The shuttle project was extensively discussed both in the political and economic approach and was finally approved by the then president of the U.S. Richard. M. Nixon. The main project became known as the Space Transportation System and in a rather unofficial manner the Space Shuttle Program.
The main purpose of the first ever U.S. space station Skylab was in order to prove beyond any reasonable doubts that people could work and live in space for a long period of time. In Skylab, astronauts had the liberty of not having to wear spacesuits all the time unlike in previous time where such an occurrence would have led to serious health complications. In Skylab, extensive studies were carried out particularly on ho well human life adapted to space life as well as the collection of data for earth and solar research. This laid the background for the studies on microgravity that tried to analyze why objects behave differently in the absence of gravity. In 1981, there was space navigation through the use of the new space vehicle known as the space travel. This space vehicle allowed astronauts to live and work in space. This led to even greater developments in the field of astronomy where the space vehicle could be used to study the overall effects of space flights on humans, animals and plants.
There was also the space station Mir that depicted international cooperation in terms of space navigation due to its occupation by both the U.S. and the Soviet astronauts. The next major development in space navigation was the creation of the International Space Station (ISS). This is considered as one of the largest scientific collaboration in history since such a project could not be handled by one country singlehandedly. This extensive and involving scientific project incorporated the scientific expertise and resource contribution of sixteen different countries that are the United States, Canada, Brazil, Russia, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Norway and Denmark.
The station was completed in 2004 and involved an estimated forty five space stations to ensure its successful completion. The International Space Station has over 100 components bearing different names in accordance to the country of developments. A practical example of this is that the U.S. has two modules known as Unity and Destiny. Russia on the other hand has a component known as Zarya meaning sunrise. Astronauts form different countries are expected to live and work in this space station leading to further developments in the world of space program sand navigation.
Since its inception, NASA has achieved great achievement in terms of scientific and technological advances. Some of the greatest NASA's technologies have been incorporated and adapted by various non-aerospace and other private space programs due to the high standard in terms of innovativeness and application. NASA has over the years remained a force to reckon with in the field of scientific research as well as leading the increased public interest in aerospace exploration. In a more general context, space exploration has changed the general perception with respect to the universe as well as demonstrating that humans are well placed in achieving the much perceived unachievable feats. The tremendous technical and scientific accomplishments in space programs have made us realize that the earth is just a tiny blue marble in the cosmos.