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Spinoff 1997

NASA Headquarters
NASA Headquarters and Centers


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When the first artificial satellite of Earth slipped across a backdrop of stars on October 4, 1957, it was heralded in the United States not as a triumph of science and technology, but a bold, startling challenge to America's ideological standing in the world community of nations.

The former Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 satellite sparked a U.S. response, motivating the U.S. Congress to hammer out in early 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Act. Signed into law on July 29 by then President Dwight Eisenhower, the Act transformed the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into a U.S. civilian space enterprise. That enterprise was named the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

On October 1, 1958, just short of a year after Sputnik 1 was cast into space, NASA officially began to blueprint the nation's space program. A fledgling NASA plan of action included human space exploration as well as an agenda of robotic exploration of the Moon and neighboring planets. Hungering for leadership in space exploration and aeronautics, NASA rapidly developed skills and abilities second to none. This striving for excellence led to the creation of NASA field centers spread across the country.


A multi-industry team lead by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works was selected by NASA to build and flight-test a sub-scale X-33 technology demonstrator, shown in this computer-generated concept. Incorporating many proven technologies, this concept could boost the United States back into dominance over the worldwide commercial launch industry.


Considered NASA's crowning achievement in the late 1960s was the first human footfall on the surface of the Moon. But perhaps of greater significance was the workforce required to place astronauts on that alien world. Translating Apollo from rhetoric to reality took a NASA managed team of highly skilled government, industry and university talent. As one of NASA's technological high water marks, Apollo comprised more than 20,000 companies and some 400,000 people across the country.

The year 1973 found NASA Headquarters in transition, moving to respond to a post-Apollo America, a time frame of budget constraints, alternative national priorities, and a seemingly sudden retrenchment in the country setting any new course in space.

The Skylab project was, in effect, a place holder, using remaining Apollo and Saturn V hardware. This experimental space station was rocketed into orbit in 1973, later to be followed by sets of astronauts who lived and worked aboard the facility throughout the year and into early 1974. Skylab became a cost-effective interim substitute for NASA's hoped-for long duration, permanent space laboratory.

For NASA Headquarters, political and White House backing had melded to support development of a reusable transportation system for hauling people and cargo into Earth orbit. Approved the year earlier by then President Richard Nixon, work in 1972 was in full-swing on moving a Space Shuttle program from viewgraph presentations to reality. Bolstered by the prospects of detente between the then Soviet Union and the United States, Nixon had also given NASA the green light to proceed with a joint space mission between the two space superpowers. This effort was successfully carried out two years later as the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

The year 1973 saw progress along the aeronautical side of NASA. Dryden Flight Research Center carried out the first piloted flight of the X-24B, a craft built to imitate an unpowered landing of a vehicle returning from space to a runway landing.

Launching pads at Cape Canaveral, Florida were busy in 1973 as NASA launched in April the Pioneer 11 interplanetary probe on a fly-by mission to Jupiter and Saturn. Several months later, in November, an Atlas Centaur hurled into space Mariner 10, a spacecraft that years later encountered Venus, then Mercury in the first demonstration of gravity-assist trajectory change.

Now decades beyond Apollo, Skylab, the early Pioneer and Mariner missions, the NASA of today is far different in organization and purpose. The civilian space enterprise born by Cold War rivalry and one-upmanship is no longer. Relevancy to NASA's ultimate stake-holder--the public--is top priority in a budgetary climate that dictates tough choices among many opportunities. NASA is resolute in its obligation to provide its customers excellent products and services in the most cost-effective and timely manner.

Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, Commander of the Apollo 17 mission is photographed by Astronaut Schmitt whose photo is reflected in the gold visor. The climax of NASA's achievement in the late 1960s was the first human footfall on the moon.


A new NASA has been formed, focused on science and technology programs that enhance and enrich the lives of all Americans. NASA is an investment in the country's future, an agency empowered with a vision to boldly expand frontiers in air and space, inspiring and serving America to benefit the quality of life here on Earth. To attain and sustain this vision, NASA Head quarters in Washington, D.C. has established an ongoing and iterative Strategic Management Process.

NASA Headquarters provides the organizational structure for the entire space agency. This duty is based on two primary levels of management responsibility. The first is Agency management, which primarily resides at Headquarters. The second is Strategic Enterprise management, which includes managing individual NASA Centers and programs. In essence, NASA Headquarters has become "corporate headquarters." It oversees a set of Strategic Enterprises, and develops NASA's strategy in accordance with what?, why?, and for whom? guidelines that directs the Nation's civil aeronautics and space ventures.

Agency management serves as the principal interface with the stakeholders, including the Administration and Congress. It is the external focal point for accountability, communication and liaison. Agency management provides budget integration, long-term NASA/stakeholder-focused institutional investment strategy, NASA policy and standards, and Agency functional leadership.

The framework for today's NASA rests on four primary "Strategic Enterprises," each delegated to one or more space agency centers. These are:

Mission to Planet Earth Enterprise:

Goddard Space Flight Center

Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise:

Ames Research Center

Langley Research Center

Lewis Research Center

Dryden Flight Research Center

Human Exploration and Development of Space Enterprise:

Johnson Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Marshall Space Flight Center

Stennis Space Center

Space Science Enterprise:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

These Strategic Enterprises comprise an integrated national aeronautics and space program. Synergism of broad purposes, technology requirements, workforce skills, facilities, and many other dimensions was the basis for amalgamating these activities within NASA in the Space Act of 1958, and the benefits remain strong today.

In further detail, each Enterprise is defined as the following:

Mission to Planet Earth Enterprise

Dedicated to understanding the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. The Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) Enterprise is pioneering the new discipline of Earth system science, with a near-term emphasis on global climate change. Space-based sensors, aircraft, and platforms on Earth offer capabilities presently being used or under development that yield new scientific understanding and practical benefits to the Nation. Today's program is laying the foundation for long-term environment and climate monitoring and prediction. The outcome is the major contribution to the scientific foundation for sustainable development.

Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise

In March of 1997, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin challenged the Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise to set bold objectives for the future. These goals are grouped into three areas, or "Three Pillars:" Global Civil Aviation, Revolutionary New Technology Leaps, and Access to Space. Within the pillars are technology goals, which are framed in terms of a final outcome--NASA-developed technologies being incorporated into industry. Goldin said, "These goals will stretch the boundaries of our knowledge and capabilities. They require taking risks and performing the long-term research and development programs needed to keep the United States as the global leader in aeronautics and space."

Mariner 10, launched in 1973, photographs Venus the following year. The craft represented the first demonstration of gravity-assist trajectory change.


The Enterprise will pioneer the identification, development, verification, transfer, application, and commercialization of high-payoff aeronautics technologies. It seeks to promote economic growth and national security through safe, superior and environmentally compatible U.S. civil and military aircraft and through a safe, efficient national aviation system. This Enterprise will work closely in a national alliance with its aeronautics customers, including U.S. industry, the university community, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to ensure that national investments in aeronautical research and technology are effectively defined and coordinated.

Lastly, the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) program is developing and demonstrating new technologies for the next generation of space transportation systems. These technologies are moving forward the day when the cost per pound of moving a payload to low Earth orbit can be reduced by an order of magnitude, from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound.

Human Exploration and Development of Space Enterprise

The mission of this Enterprise is to open the space frontier by exploring, using and enabling the development of space and to expand the human experience into the far reaches of space. In exploring space, the Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise brings people and machines together to overcome the challenges of distance, time and environment. Robotic science missions survey and characterize other bodies as precursors to eventual human missions. In using space, HEDS emphasizes learning how to live and work there, utilizing the resources and unique environment. The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station pave the way for sustained human presence in space through critical research on human adaptation.

Space Science Enterprise

This Enterprise is multifaceted: science, technology, education and public outreach. The Space Science Enterprise serves the human quest to understand our origin, our existence and our fate. While fulfilling this quest, it seeks to inspire the Nation and the world, to open young minds to broader perspectives on the future and to bring home to every person on Earth the experience of exploring space. Did life arise elsewhere in the universe? Are there worlds around other stars? What is the universe and how did it come into being? This Enterprise addresses these questions and others by establishing a continuum of exploration and science. A virtual presence is to be created in probing new territories within and beyond our solar system.

Each of these Enterprises will develop and verify enabling, cutting-edge technologies for future space science, exploration, and commercial missions and will identify and mature high-risk/high-payoff advanced concepts that enable revolutionary new space activities. In addition, they will nurture world-class capabilities that are critical to the development of technologies.

Much cross-cutting of purpose occurs between the Enterprises. The HEDS Enterprise, for instance, provides the Space Science and Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprises the means to benefit from human presence in the unique environment of space. Conversely, the Space Science and Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprises provide the foundation for the HEDS Enterprise by, among other things, undertaking precursor robotic missions and developing needed knowledge and technology. The Space Science Enterprise enriches the MTPE Enterprise with studies of the Sun, the other planets and the near-Earth environment for their relevance to our understanding of the Earth. The Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise and the HEDS Enterprise are mutually supportive in high-speed aerodynamics, vehicle control systems, and crew accommodation research. These are but a few examples of the mutually beneficial interactions among NASA's Strategic Enterprises.

Workers at Cape Canaveral get one final look at the Mars Pathfinder before it is sealed inside a protective payload fairing for flight. The mission, launched December 2, 1996 arrived at Mars July 4, 1997.


NASA's Centers are responsible for implementing space agency plans, programs and activities as an integral part of the Strategic Enterprises. Center missions identify the primary concentration of capabilities to support the accomplishment of Strategic Enterprise goals. Meanwhile, Centers of Excellence are focused, agency-wide leadership responsibilities in a specific area of technology or knowledge.

Aligned with NASA's Strategic Enterprises, assigned center missions and the various Centers of Excellence, the space agency is embarking on an exciting and impressive research schedule.

In the area of aeronautics, new strategic goals have been developed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense (DoD) and industry partners. This combined effort is aimed at a major improvement in the safety of flight, cutting in half the cost of air travel, and equally aggressive reductions in aircraft noise and emissions.

The Origins Program has been established, to look at many facets of the Universe, its creation, the formation of chemical elements and of galaxies, stars, and planets. A major program in Astrobiology is also being pursued, bringing together the best minds in the field of life sciences to research the chain of processes leading to the formation and early evolution of the simplest forms of life in the Universe.

Other highlights of the Origins Program include an accelerated pace for the Mars Surveyor program, assuring a sample return mission from the red planet by the year 2005. A Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) is to be launched in 2001, a prelude to building ever larger and more powerful Next Generation Space Telescopes that can observe the Universe to its very beginnings and begin a search to pinpoint Earth-like planets circling other stars.

Excellent progress is being made on the International Space Station. First launchings of key station elements are near at hand. An unparalleled level of experience has been gained in the past few years, working with other nations toward a common purpose. From this first step, new trails can be blazed to other planets and explore the vast expanse of space.

NASA's new Strategic Management Process has been developed as an integrated approach to the planning, implementation, execution, and evaluation of the space agency's activities. This process enables NASA to deliver quality products and services to the agency's customers and stakeholders and to its ultimate beneficiary--the public.

For the first and probably only time before they are linked together 220 miles up in space, the United States modules for the International Space Station are side-by-side. The Space Station will be a permanent orbiting laboratory in space.


NASA Headquarters has undertaken a major restructuring of the agency's national purpose and has clarified its scientific and technological agenda as the 21st century looms on the horizon. To explore new worlds, advance key technologies, learn to live in space, push the boundaries of flight, understand our changing planet, and inspire America's youth, these are the underpinnings of a revitalized and vibrant NASA.

NASA log - Link Office of the Chief Technologist Image of cover Spinoff 2010 NASA Hallmarks of success videos