NASA's Flight Centers

NASA's flight centers focus on getting everything from satellites to humans into space. They also perform research to gain more knowledge about the Earth, the sun, the moon, our solar system and the whole universe.

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)
in Greenbelt, Maryland was the first space flight center established by NASA. Some of its projects include:

  • Space Telescope Science Institute
  • managing satellites that observe the earth, sun and the universe
  • operating NASA's spaceflight tracking networks
  • developing weather satellites for forecasting and research for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

GSFC operates the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University in New York City. The institute studies global climate change using data gathered by GSFC and its missions.

An astronaut trains for an extravehicular activity in the Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at Johnson Space Center.
Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center
An astronaut trains for an extravehicular activity in the Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at Johnson Space Center.

Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas conducts human space exploration activities. Here Mission Control directs all manned spaceflights. JSC is the home of the astronaut corps and the place where astronaut selection and training takes place. For this purpose, JSC houses space vehicle mockups, neutral buoyancy simulators for weightlessness, computer flight simulators and specialized aircraft (T-38 trainer jets and Gulfstream jet aircraft modified to simulate the shuttle landing). JSC has research programs in space biomedicine, life support, power systems, robotics, flight software, and space suit technology.

JSC also operates the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Here, NASA test fires rocket engines for various missions and test various materials for space flight. This facility also serves as an alternate landing site for the space shuttle along with DFRC and KSC.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida is KSC is America's spaceport. KSC has been the launch facility for all NASA manned missions since the days of Project Mercury. At KSC, rocket stages and payloads (such as Space Shuttle, Delta) are assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building and transported to one of several launch pads (Launch Complex 39A for shuttle). KSC also houses:

  • Orbiter Processing Facility - refurbish shuttles after landing
  • Space Shuttle Main Engine Processing Facility - services the shuttle main engines
  • Shuttle landing strip
  • Hangar AF at Canaveral Air Force Station - the shuttle's solid rocket boosters are returned after recovery
  • Rotation/Processing Building - refurbished solid rocket booster segments are assembled
  • Launch Control Center - directs all aspects of a mission's launch. After the rocket clears the tower, control is transferred to Mission control Center in JSC (manned missions) or another NASA Center such as JPL or GSFC (unmanned missions).

KSC operates launch complexes at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Kodiak Island in Alaska where expendable rockets are also launched.

The space shuttle Atlantis rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center
Image courtesy NASA
The space shuttle Atlantis rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Langley, Virginia, conducts aviation and pace research. Using many types of wind tunnels, scientists develop airframes and study how layers of aircraft/spacecraft behave as they fly through the atmosphere of Earth and other planets/moons. Langley also focuses on aviation safety, aerospace vehicle technologies and quiet aircraft technology.

Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama develops space transportation and rocket-propulsion technologies. At MSFC, NASA developed all of its launch vehicles from the first Redstone and Atlas rockets, which launched Project Mercury, to the Apollo Saturn V rockets and space-shuttle main engines. This tradition continues as MSFC designs the Ares launch vehicle for the Orion spacecraft. Other projects at MSFC include:

  • developing and testing components for the International Space Station including module nodes, scientific equipment racks, and logistic modules
  • developing new rocket technologies such as advanced chemical propulsion, electric/ion propulsion, solar sails and aerobrakes
  • developing new optical materials and technologies for space telescopes

A space shuttle main engine is tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center
Image courtesy NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
A space shuttle main engine is tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center

Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Hancock County, Mississippi performs rocket testing and remote sensing technology. SSC is a primary rocket test center for NASA. The Applied Research and Technology Office at SSC develops remote sensing tools and software and disseminates information about Earth observations through various partnerships.

Next, we'll look at the future of NASA.