It's been a full century since NASA got its start as NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1915, as March 3 marked the 100th anniversary of the organization. Its predecessor's primary role was to spearhead aeronautic projects during World War I. The committee's founding came as an emergency response, as did the committee's rebranding, so to speak. As NACA was meant to accelerate aviation developments in the face of an ever-widening gap between American and European innovations, so was NASA created in response to the Soviet Union launching their Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957.
Before it looked toward the stars, NACA was hard at work on new aircraft as well as enhancing safety tests. Their Langley Aeronautical Lab in Hampton, Virginia, was the institute's first major center, opening in 1920 and helping to employ hundreds of people. It is still in use and was pivotal in the development of NACA's innovative supersonic aircraft. NACA as a whole can be credited with adding to airplane fuel efficiency thanks to the development of the NACA cowling.
Space travel had been on the minds of NACA personnel since World War II, and it was the controversial hiring of former Nazi major Wernher von Braun that ultimately put space exploration in clear focus. Some 50 years after its founding, the NACA name was retired and NASA was born.
NASA was created not just to give the Soviets a run for their money but to accelerate a once-burgeoning space program that now includes important unmanned missions to Mars that might soon become accessible in your own living room thanks to a partnership with Microsoft's HoloLens. To think that, in 50 years' time, NASA went from its formative first years to an innumerable list of missions that grows ever-larger each year. Still, NASA sings the praises of its former program. Says administrator Charles Bolden:
NASA can boast that streamlined aircraft bodies, quieter jet engines, techniques for preventing icing, drag-reducing winglets and lightweight composite structures are an everyday part of flying thanks to research concepts and tools that trace their origins to the NACA.
If I may be so bold as to make a few predictions for what the next 50 years hold for NASA, it certainly seems that a manned mission to Mars is on the minds of everyone. Even private organizations completely unrelated to NASA have taken an interest, to say nothing of the niche industry of space tourism. NASA might very well not only help innovate trips past the stratosphere for leisure but also expand their repertoire to include the exploration of life itself. The decades old Voyager 1 continues to plumb the depths and far reaches of space as we know it. It could provide definitive answers to our galaxy's founding and open doors to spaces and places that scientists and space enthusiasts can currently only dream about.
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