National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 when President Eisenhower signed the act. The Mercury Seven were the first group of astronauts. The number of astronauts peaked at 149 in the year 2000. Currently 38 active astronauts serve our country. Children can learn more at: NASA.
Phoenix was launched by NASA in 2007. The spacecraft landed on a polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008, and conducted tests on water and surface chemistry until November 2, 2008. Then the Martian winter set in, and the fragile equipment could no longer send data. Children could learn more at: http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/kids.php.
Echo 1A, the first passive communications satellite, was successfully launched in 1960. The 100-foot diameter balloon reflected communications signals to desired locations. Only one other passive communications satellite was launched until NASA decided to use active satellites. Experts predicted Echo 1A would last only until 1964. However, Echo 1A remained intact and reentered earth’s atmosphere on May 24, 1968. The satellite was destroyed by friction and heat.
Spacecraft Dawn was launched by NASA in 2007. Its mission was to explore Vesta and Ceres, the two largest extraterrestrial bodies in the Asteroid Belt. Dawn began orbiting around Vesta on July 16, 2011, and sent back data. It left Vesta on September 5, 2012, and it reached Ceres on March 6, 2015. It currently remains in orbit around Ceres. Children can learn more at: Spacecraft Dawn.
Huygens Probe landed on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. The successful landing indicated Titan’s surface is covered with a powdery substance. Scientists are still analyzing the data the probe sent back to earth. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint venture of the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and NASA. The mission left earth in 1997. The Cassini portion continued to send back data about Saturn and remained active until September 15, 2017. Children can see drawings and more at: Cassini-Huygens.
Stardust was launched by NASA in 1999. Scientists sent it into outer space to collect samples from comets. So how did Stardust collect those samples? It contained plates of aerogel, a type of sticky stuff that attracted and kept the comet materials. It traveled three billion miles before returning to earth January 15, 2006, with samples it took from comet Wild 2. Children can have a great time exploring the Stardust NASA site for kids at: Stardust.
Kepler Space Observatory was launched from Florida in 2009. Named after the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, the observatory searched for earth-like planets in other parts of the galaxy. Before it was decommissioned in 2018, it provided more information than any observatory on earth. The Kepler Space Observatory and other instruments have located 4104 new exoplanets. Children can participate in some interactives at: Kepler Space Observatory.