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Pioneering Off-Earth

NASA's 40-year adventure

Space-age children take an awesome lifestyle for granted. Satellites bring the world to their TV screens. They enjoy top-down views of continent-spanning and ocean-spanning weather. They explore other planets vicariously via space-faring video robots. They inspect moon rocks in museums and study the rock-collecting expeditions as a history lesson. They look out from our solar system upon the remotest galaxies thanks to images transmitted by space telescopes.

Such things were science fiction dreams only four decades ago. Then, on July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. In effect, he said, "Let NASA be," and those wishful dreams began to turn into realities.

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was born out of the stress of cold-war rivalry. But many of the midwives knew there was more at stake than national prestige and military readiness. Science and technology had reached the stage where humanity could start to venture forth from its planetary home. Space scientists in Russia shared that vision. There was more than propaganda in the mantras when these rival nations proclaimed they were pioneering space flight on behalf of all humanity.

Other nations have joined the adventure. They often - but not always - have followed NASA's lead. This enterprise hasn't been easy. All the participants have had their failures. Uncertain funding has hamstrung many promising space initiatives. Nevertheless, successes outshine the shortcomings. Our space-age world enjoys many of the benefits the dreamers envisioned.

Now NASA is tackling a fresh challenge. It is pioneering true space flight partnership through the international space station project. It must work with old rival Russia. It must adjust to the cultures of successful European and Japanese space programs. At home, NASA is under fire for escalating space station costs. Critics question the station's value. The agency has to work as hard at solving these human problems as it does in tackling formidable technical problems.

The goal is worth the effort to achieve it. If space flight is to continue to fulfill the dreams of the pioneers, its development must proceed with the participation of many nations. NASA's forty-year track record gives hope that the agency and its partners will succeed.

Thank you, NASA. We're confident you can extend mankind's reach in the 21st century.

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