How NASA Works

Skylab and Beyond

In 1973, NASA placed its first space station, Skylab, into Earth orbit. Although Skylab was damaged in flight, NASA sent the first crew to repair the spacecraft and make it livable. The crew remained on board for 28 days and conducted numerous experiments on the physiological effects of long duration spaceflight and observations of the sun and Earth. Two subsequent crews spent time (58 days and 84 days) in the Skylab continuing experiments and observations.

Apollo Soyuz Test Project (1975)
The final Apollo mission was the Apollo Soyuz Test project, which was a joint mission with the Soviet Union. An Apollo spacecraft with three astronauts docked in Earth orbit with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft containing two cosmonauts. The crews spent two days together conducting experiments. The flight demonstrated that the United States and the Soviet Union could work together in space and laid the groundwork for the Shuttle/Mir program and the International Space Station two decades later.

An artist's concept depicting a scene in Earth orbit during the Apollo transposition and docking maneuvers of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission.
Image courtesy Paul Fjeld/JSC Digital Image Collection/ NASA
An artist's concept depicting a scene in Earth orbit during the Apollo transposition and docking maneuvers of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission.

Space Shuttle (1980-present)
In 1980, the first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle, flew into Earth orbit. NASA's fleet of space shuttles has operated for over 20 years, ferrying humans into space, deploying satellites and space probes, and helping build the International Space Station. Two shuttles and their crews, the Challenger and the Columbia, have been lost. NASA has learned many lessons in operating the shuttle and has made several redesigns and procedural changes to make the shuttle flights safer. NASA plans to end the shuttle program by 2010 and replace the shuttle with the new Orion spacecraft.

Space Telescopes (1990 - Present)
The Hubble space telescope was launched by NASA in 1990. After a shuttle mission to fix its defective optics, the telescope has been used to make many astronomical discoveries. Several other space telescopes have been placed in orbit, such as the Chandra X-ray telescope and Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS). These telescopes have allowed astronomers to peer far into space (and back in time).

International Space Station (2000-Present)
NASA began constructing the International Space Station in cooperation with several nations, including Russia, the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan. The goal of the project is to establish a permanent human presence in Earth orbit for conducting experiments and observations. Fifteen crews consisting of astronauts and cosmonauts have manned the station as this project continues.

These accomplishments in space exploration and aeronautical research require enormous efforts in manpower and resources. So how does NASA manage all of these projects? Let's look at how NASA is organized.

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