NASA History: The Heavens and Beyond

By: Nathan Chandler
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

NASA isn't your typical government agency. The organization has achieved some of humankind's most daring feats. How much do you know about NASA and its amazing missions?

NASA has been a tremendous force in space projects. Which president established NASA?

Dwight Eisenhower established NASA in 1958. Since then, NASA has achieved some of the most startling accomplishments in human history.

NASA actually replaced an older organization that was called what?

NASA replaced NACA. NACA stood for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was formed in 1915 to advance aeronautics research.

NASA's first major mission was Project Mercury. What was the project's focus?

In the late 50s, NASA was primarily interested in the basics. Project Mercury aimed to find out if humans could survive the rigors of space.

NASA started its mission in 1958. How many employees did it have?

When NACA morphed into NASA, it turned over about 8,000 employees. Today, NASA employs about 17,000 people.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 established NASA. What was the mission statement of the Act?

"To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." The stale mission statement is lacking in grandeur.

NASA's creation was directly inspired in part by conflict with which country?

Following World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were (and still are) clashing in political ideologies. Both countries saw space as a place that could hold tremendous power for whoever managed to seize control.

In the late 50s, NASA was still a fledgling organization. What was its annual budget?

With 8,000 employees, NASA needed significant cash. It had an annual budget of around $100 million. That would be close to $1 billion in today's cash.

Which 1950s event sparked tremendous public support for NASA?

In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. Americans had a simultaneous freak out moment thinking the Communists were going to crush freedom and baby bald eagles and maybe even kittens. NASA was born the following year and given plenty of leverage to compete with the U.S.S.R.

What was the name of NASA's first crewed program?

Started in 1959, Mercury was the first major project of the newly-renamed organization. It launched a total of six crewed missions.

In the 1960s, NASA began an X-15 program. What was it?

The X-15 program was all about rocket-powered planes. The super-fast, high-altitude planes helped engineer technologies for space flight.

Pioneer 1 was the first spacecraft launched by NASA.

In October 1958, Pioneer 1 was NASA's very first spacecraft launch. It was meant to orbit the moon, but a programming error caused the mission to fail.

In December 1958, what first did NASA accomplish?

NASA launched a communications satellite in December 1958, and it transmitted the very first voice from space. The speaker? President Eisenhower, of course.

The space shuttle program started in 1981. How long did the program last?

The space shuttle program was home to some of NASA's greatest achievements and most heart-rending tragedies. It lasted for about 30 years.

Which mission landed the first men on the moon?

Apollo 11, which launched in 1969, was the first NASA mission to land men on the surface of the moon. It is perhaps the single most amazing moment in human history.

NASA didn’t stop with Apollo 11. How many total times did it land manned missions on the moon?

The organization did its best to capitalize on Apollo 11. It used the same technologies to land five more missions -- six in total -- on the moon.

In May of 1959, NASA blasted two animals into space. What animals were they?

In May 1959, NASA sent two monkeys (named Able and Baker) into orbit. They later splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean -- only one monkey ultimately survived.

The first American spacewalk happened during which project?

In 1964, as part of the Gemini 4 mission, astronaut Ed White performed the very first American spacewalk. His spacewalk lasted for 21 minutes.

In April 1960, NASA successfully launched TIROS 1. What was the purpose of this satellite?

TIROS 1 was the first successful satellite of its kind. It was meant to observe Earth's weather. These days, we take for granted this kind of meteorological data.

In May of 1961, President Kennedy gave his State of the Union address and gave NASA which mission?

Kennedy decided to up the ante with the Soviet Union. He told NASA to put a man on the moon and to get the job done before the decade was over.

Not all of NASA's missions end in triumph. How many of the organization's missions have killed every crew member?

Two NASA missions have ended in complete catastrophe, killing all crew members onboard. They were both shuttle missions -- the Columbia and Challenger.

In 1962, John Glenn became the first NASA astronaut to do what?

Glenn blasted off in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. He made three orbits of the planet and became a national hero.

Pioneer 10 was a successful mission to which planet?

Launched in 1972, Pioneer 10 made it all the way to Jupiter ... and then kept right on going into deep space. NASA received signals from the craft until 2003.

NASA launched Voyager 2 in 1977. The mission is still active.

Voyager 2 was initiated in 1977 to probe distant planets. It is in fact still in contact with NASA, meaning it's been sending back data for about four decades. It should eventually pass Pioneer 10 and then reach even deeper parts of space.

Mariner 2 was a hugely successful flyby mission. Which planet did the mission approach?

Mariner 2 was the first space mission to fly by another planetary object. The four-month mission revealed some fascinating details about Venus.

In 1961, President Kennedy told NASA to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. When did NASA actually accomplish that goal?

In July 1969, just six months before Kennedy's deadline, NASA's Apollo 11 put two men on the moon. It was a moment of glory not just for NASA, but the whole planet.

Skylab was NASA's first (and only) independently operated space station. How long was it actually used?

Skylab was home to three crewed missions and a total of nine astronauts. They spent 171 combined days onboard the craft, which fell out of orbit and back to Earth in 1979.

The Soviet Union was the first country to achieve lunar orbit.

NASA lost this part of the Space Race. The Soviets achieved unmanned lunar orbit in early 1966. But in June, NASA landed Surveyor 1 on the moon's surface.

Why did NASA decide to name its first space shuttle the "Enterprise"?

A huge promotional drive by fans of "Star Trek" pressured NASA to name the craft the Enterprise. Eventually, that's exactly what the ship was called.

What did NASA first do in 2005?

The 2005 Deep Impact mission crashed a probe right into the surface of a comet. The mission provided all sorts of cool images and amazing data for scientific purposes.

What was the ultimate goal of NASA's Project Constellation?

2003's Constellation was ultimately meant to send astronauts to Mars. It was axed (largely for budget reasons) in 2010 before it ever launched a single mission.

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