National Aeronautics and
February 22, 2008
A half century ago, a new federal agency was created to accomplish feats of exploration and discovery unparalleled in human history. The men and women of NASA have been responsible for such epic achievements as landing 12 human explorers on the moon, sending robots to scout the solar system from Mercury to Pluto, and making revolutionary discoveries about the nature of our universe. Closer to home, people have reaped enormous benefits from NASA’s communications, weather and Earth monitoring satellites, and the agency’s continued commitment to excellence in aeronautics research. Our quality of life has been improved by thousands of new technologies derived from NASA research.
Although we can take pride in these accomplishments, the true space age still lies ahead. Soon, NASA and partners from other spacefaring nations and the commercial sector will build a research station on the moon. This first outpost on another world will extend the human frontier in a fundamentally new way, it will stimulate unforeseen advances in technology, and it will produce new scientific results obtainable in no other way. And, looking to the next steps on humanity’s outward path, our work on the moon and aboard the International Space Station will pave the way for the first astronauts to explore Mars in the coming decades.
The 21st century will see human civilization and the values we cherish spread out into the solar system. The United States, through NASA, must lead the way. The world’s great nations have been defined by their determination to lead in the exploration and development of the frontiers of their times. In the 21st century, space is the frontier, and I am convinced that the path to which we are committed is a strategic imperative for our nation.
This commemorative publication tells the story of NASA’s first half-century and illuminates the challenges ahead as NASA continues to explore for answers to power our future. I hope you will learn more about NASA’s visionary leaders, heroic astronauts, innovative engineers, insightful scientists, and the many others who have contributed to our successes. But, with our triumphs have also come failure and tragedy. Exploration and risk are as inextricably linked as the two faces of a coin. We will never forget the people we have lost in pursuit of the achievements we celebrate here. There is solace to be found in the realization that great lives are those which are dedicated to great purposes. The people of NASA have the privilege of doing things that have never been done before, of enabling people to see things that have never been seen before. And just as future developments in maritime exploration and commerce were unimaginable when the first Viking longships set out on the open ocean, we have begun a journey that will affect the future of human civilization in ways that we cannot imagine today. NASA’s past is only the prelude to an adventure truly without end.
Michael D. Griffin