Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA Turns 50 Years Old


 I was looking at Google's home page this morning and saw yet another one of their clever logos celebrating an event. This time it was the 50th anniversary of NASA.

According to a story on the Scientific American website, NASA officially started operating on October 1, 1958, with only 80 staff members.  Today, NASA employs more than 17,000 staff.


The last fifty years have seen the triumphs of the moon landings, the launch of the Space Shuttle, and the exploration of Mars with robotic rovers.  These accomplishments also came with setbacks and tragedies along the way with the loss of the crew of Apollo 1, and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Just last Sunday I saw the repeat of the 60 Minutes broadcast on the new plans for a manned moon landing, the first step to sending a mission to Mars.

Watching footage in the story of actual engines and launch systems being tested was inspiring.  The hardware has left the drawing board and is getting ready for the day when world will watch as rockets roar skyward for a new generation of space travelers.

The 60 Minutes story also reported on the risks and costs involved. Critics say the idea of going back to the moon is a pricey project the United States cannot afford right now.

With the shuttle program reaching retirement in 2010, it will not be till 2014 till the first Ares I rockets take off from Cape Canaveral.

It will take optimism for NASA and those who love space travel to face the challenges ahead.  I think astronaut Gene Cernan says it best in the 60 Minutes story...


"When I came back from the moon in ’72, [I] stood on my soapbox and said, ‘We’re not only going back to the moon, we’re gonna be on our way to Mars by the turn of the century.' I believed it with my whole heart. But my glass has been half empty for the last 30 years. Now, it’s half full."