On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union kicked off the Space Race by launching the first earth satellite into orbit. The surprise success of the Soviet Sputnik program led to a crisis of public confidence in U.S. leadership in scientific innovation. In the summer of 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the National Aeronautics and Space Act. This legislation led to the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Oct. 1, 1958. The new agency, which would oversee the civilian space program, was charged with a series of objectives related to research into the use of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes. The National Aeronautics and Space Act also provided for creation of a Civilian-Military Advisory Panel that would coordinate military uses of space. Since the 1950s, the United States federal government has maintained a policy of separate civilian and military space programs. In addition, the Space Act redefined patent law, adding stipulations that both employee and contractor inventions related to space travel would be subject to government ownership. This made the federal government the exclusive provider of space transportation systems and discouraged private space transport development.
Since its inception, NASA's most notable activities have revolved around its space exploration missions. Throughout the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union continued to compete in space exploration with a series of manned and unmanned space flights. The Soviets initially took the lead, sending the first human into space in 1961. That same year President Kennedy announced Apollo, NASA's moon space program. Project Gemini, which would focus on the research and experimentation needed for lunar missions, was also established at this time. Kennedy set 1969 as the Apollo deadline for a successful moon landing. The Apollo 11 mission satisfied Kennedy's deadline by putting astronauts on the moon in July 1968. In the 1970s, NASA developed Skylab, which was its first space station. At the same time, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a joint U.S.-Russian mission, involved the rendezvous of two manned space vehicles. NASA's focus turned to the Space Shuttle program in the 1980s, which continued for 30 years, launching 300 astronauts in reusable vehicles before the program was terminated in July 2011. NASA continues to participate in the International Space Station program along with space agencies from Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. In addition to manned spaceflight, NASA has launched scientific probes and developed the Hubble Space Telescope to explore the solar system.
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During the 1960s, NASA's budget as a percentage of the total federal government budget was at its highest, reaching a maximum of 4.4 percent in 1966. Due to the goals of Project Apollo, NASA employed more than 34,000 people and paid an additional 375,000 academic and industrial contractors. Since 2000, the budget has ranged between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent. The 2011 budget was $18.4 billion, or about 0.5 percent of the government's $3.4 trillion budget. NASA's budget has been controversial over the years, with opponents expressing concern about so much money being spent on space exploration.
Critics are often unaware that the agency's budget represents a small portion of the entire federal budget. They also may not realize that NASA has been responsible for many technological innovations that have been adapted for non-aerospace uses in the private sector. These include communication satellites, cordless medical instruments and tools, water filters, smoke detector devices, scratch-resistant plastics, temper foam, infrared temperature sensors, and shoe compression systems. Under the Obama administration, NASA's Constellation human spaceflight program and plans to return to the moon have been cancelled. Instead, an additional $6 billion was pledged to put a manned mission into the orbit of Mars by the mid-2030s. Recently, a shift in NASA's space exploration policy has led to collaborations between NASA and the private sector. The agency is now willing to develop technology that can be used for privately funded space missions. An example is the Dragon space capsule that docked with the International Space Station in 2012. Dragon is a product of SpaceX, a private company with a $1.6 billion NASA contract for cargo transport to and from the Space Station.
NASA, Space Exploration and Policy Careers
NASA seeks exceptional leaders to head up dynamic organizations that are involved in exciting scientific and aeronautic missions. MPA graduates who have a background in physical science, engineering, mathematics or other fields of science as well as strong management skills are qualified for MPA careers with NASA.
The deputy associate administrator for research works within the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and serves as a liaison between the space science research community and the associate administrator's office. The position includes responsibility for quality of science processes and programs and voting on final recommendations for all science mission solicitations that come before the SMD. The deputy associate administrator coordinates activities across NASA centers, working with key contractors, other federal agencies and the White House. One of the requirements for the position is substantial professional experience in earth science, space science or a closely related field.
The director of the Analysis Division directs the analysis, evaluation and development of acquisition initiatives for NASA. Position responsibilities include serving as a NASA procurement expert on federal inter-agency committees that are focused on developing new approaches and improvements to the procurement process. The director coordinates with various offices within NASA as well as with the Department of Defense, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office. The director also oversees agency-wide reporting and analysis of contracts, grants and cooperative agreements with non-profits, educational institutions and businesses. Additionally, the director is responsible for managing IT procurement tools such as the procurement library and knowledge management websites and oversees acquisition training and career development within the Analysis Division.
The chief of Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division heads up an organization located at the Goddard Space Flight Center and is responsible for planning, coordinating and organizing end-to-end systems engineering and analysis for space flight missions and Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) for Goddard programs and projects. A technical background is required for this position in order to provide guidance for technology development and risk mitigation strategies. This position includes responsibility for defining systems engineering and GN&C standard principles and policies for the Goddard Space Flight Center. The Chief must also ensure that organizational diversity goals are achieved by adhering to nondiscriminatory employment practices.