Interesting Goddard Facts and Firsts
Did You Know That...

  • Goddard was established on May 1, 1959.
  • Goddard was NASA's first space flight center.
  • Goddard employs approximately 10,000 civil servants and contractors
  • Goddard is located approximately 6.5 miles (10.5 km) northeast of Washington, D.C. in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA.
  • The center is named for Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the pioneer of modern rocket propulsion in the U.S.
  • Goddard is the largest combined organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to increasing knowledge of the Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe via observations from space in the U.S.
  • Goddard is a major laboratory for developing and operating unmanned scientific spacecraft.
  • Goddard is a one-stop. Missions are designed here, and satellites are built here.
  • Home of Physics Nobel Prize Winning scientist John Mather for his work on the COBE mission.
  • Goddard operates spaceflight tracking and data acquisition networks.
  • Goddard develops and maintains space and Earth science data information systems.
  • Goddard develops and maintains satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Goddard co-manages the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA).
  • The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA Goddard and the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Goddard has launched over 290 missions over a period of 50 years.
  • Goddard's cadre of scientists is larger than any other institution.
  • Goddard has developed more planetary instruments than any other institution on Earth.
  • Goddard has led space communications since the inception of human spaceflight.
  • Goddard developed and manages the largest civilian information system in the world.
  • Goddard has over 40 years of experience managing the development of NOAA’s weather satellites.
  • Wallops has launched over 16,000 suborbital and orbital missions.
  • Goddard has built and operated more research satellites dedicated to the study and protection of our home planet than any other institution in the world.
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Since it was established in 1959, Goddard Space Flight Center has stayed on the cutting edge of development and technology. This is due to the many extraordinary people, government and contractors, that work or have worked at Goddard over the past 50 years.

  • First Earth photo from satellite. (Vanguard II)
  • First successful weather satellite. (TIROS I)
  • First passive communications satellites. (Echo I/II)
  • First Earth-orbiting spacecraft launched by an all-solid rocket. (Explorer 9, Scout rocket)
  • First privately-built communications satellite. (Telstar I)
  • First international satellite. (Ariel 1)
  • First geosynchronous communications satellite. (Syncom I)
  • First operational trans-Atlantic communications satellite, for Comsat Corp. (Intelsat I)
  • First satellite launch from mobile sea-based platform. (San Marco II)
  • First gravity gradient satellite control system. (ATS II)
  • First pictures of the Sun in UV wavelengths. (OSO-IV)
  • First X-ray satellite. (Explorer 42) Explorer 42 was one of three Small Astronomy Satellites that provided the first X-ray maps. Launched Dec. 12, 1970, Explorer 42 catalogued more than 200 X-ray sources and found the first evidence for a black hole.
  • First geostationary weather satellite. (SMS A)
  • First Earth Resources Technology (remote sensing- Landsat) satellite. (ERTS A)
  • Pioneered Get-Away Special low-cost Shuttle experiment concept. (STS-4 1982)
  • First satellite repaired in space. (SMM 1984)
  • First space-based observations of ozone layer/hole. (Nimbus 7)
  • Pioneered satellite-based tracking and data relay system. (TDRSS)
  • First satellite to observe cosmic background radiation from early universe. (confirm big bang theory) (COBE)
  • Pioneered SMEX satellite concept
  • First image of the global biosphere, to include ocean phytoplankton and land vegetation. (SeaWifs 1998)
  • First celestial survey in the Extreme Ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. (EUVE)
  • First satellite to explore very rapid changes in x-rays from pulsars to black holes. (RXTE)
  • First use of satellite tracking data to improve our knowledge of Earth's gravity field, learning we have a pear shaped world. (Minitrack on Vanguard l)
  • First transfer of a liquid cryogen in space. (SHOOT, 1993, demonstrated the feasibility of on-orbit replenishment of stored cryogens such as liquid oxygen)
  • First measurement of the global ozone amount from space. (BUV, Nimbus)
  • First measurements of aerosols from space. (TOMS, 1979)
  • First detection of volcanic SO2 from space. (El Chichon, TOMS, 1982)
  • First space mission dedicated to observing and understanding tropical rainfall, more than 2/3's of all rainfall on Earth. (TRMM)
  • First three axis stabilized Geostationary Weather satellite. (GOES l)
  • First to use a Lagrangian point orbit: the International Sun-EarthExplorer-3 halo orbit about the L1 Lagrangian point of the sun-earth system (1978). The SOHO and ACE spacecraft are currently using such orbits.
  • First spacecraft to encounter a comet: the International Cometary Explorer intercepted Comet Giacobini-Zinner on September 11, 1985, following a lunar-swingby within 80 miles of the lunar surface.
  • First observations of the Earth's magnetic fields.
  • First electrically neutralized spacecraft (POLAR) equipped to observe the Earth's polar cap and lobe plasma environments.
  • First spacecraft (POLAR) making simultaneous images of the earth's auroral zones.
  • ATS-6 provided first satellite communications with aircraft. (PLACE experiment).
  • ATS-6 provided first satellite television communications for teaching college courses.
  • ATS-6 provided first satellite television communications for medical treatment in remote locations (medical treatment of Eskimos in Alaska).
  • ATS-3 demonstrated first satellite supported communications with ships at sea. (GE experiments with ships).
  • The first satellite to provide everyday coverage of Earth's radiation environment for more than 25 years. (IMP 8)
  • First satellite in lunar orbit. (Explore 35)
  • First radio astronomy spacecraft. (RAE)
  • Largest antenna erected in space, 460 meters tip-to-tip. (RAE)
  • First use of multiple spacecraft to track solar disturbances traveling through interplanetary space. (ISEE-3, Ulysses, WIND).
  • First measurement of water vapor, Ethane and Methane, in comets. (with NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory and Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, HI)
  • Discovery of x-ray Emission from Comets (with ROSAT and EUVE satellites)
  • First circumnavigation of Antarctica by a balloon in January 1989.
  • First use of the internet for real-time science data operations which occurred during the first encounter of a comet by ISEE-3/ICE. (Sept. 1985)
  • First images of host galaxies ray bursts. (Hubble Space Telescope/STIS)
  • First in-orbit repair of an astronomical optical system. (Hubble Space Telescope)
  • First observation of the eerie ultraviolet light from Earth's upper atmosphere. (Sounding Rocket)
  • First ultraviolet images of galaxies. (sounding rocket)
  • First space observatory for use by all astronomers. (IUE)
  • First extremely sharp extreme ultraviolet image of the solar corona. (TRACE)
  • First spacecraft to make comprehensive measurements of the Earth's environment of particles, fields and radiation. (OGO I)
  • First spacecraft to explore the boundary of Earth's magnetosphere. (Explorer X)
  • First spacecraft to explore the Earth's bow shock in the solar wind. (IMP 1)
  • First test on ion drive in space. (ATS-6)
  • First global image of the Earth's biosphere that includes ocean phytoplankton and land vegetation (SeaWiFS 1998)
  • First spacecraft over 35,000 pounds to be taken to space by the space shuttle. (Compton Ray Observatory)
  • Nimbus 7: First imagery of the surface of the earth though clouds. (Nimbus 7 SMMR)
  • Nimbus 7: First all-weather observations of the amount of sea ice on the polar oceans on a regular basis. This is one of the most reliable indicators of climate change, and will permit us to determine whether or not the climate is warming, cooling, or merely oscillating with a long-term period. (SMMR)
  • First tracking and data relay constellation developed and launched by Goddard
  • First spacecraft stationed in a libration-point orbit. (International Sun-Earth Explorer-3/ISEE-3)
  • First real-time warning system for geomagnetic storms. (ISEE-3)
  • First use of multiple lunar swingbys for orbital control in the Earth-Moon System. (ISEE-3)
  • First encounter with a comet. (ISEE-3)
  • NASA's original Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-1), launched from the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-6) in April 1983, went from almost being "lost in space," to a remarkable example of the agency's "can do, never quit" attitude. On April 4, TDRS-1 celebrates 20 years of outstanding service and "firsts."
  • NASA/GSFC Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) Network Firsts
    • 1964: First successful demonstration of SLR to Beacon Explorer 22-B satellite at GSFC (3 m ranging)
    • 1968-1976: NASA, CNES, and SAO SLR systems carried out first meter level global geodetic and gravity field measurements using reflectors on remote sensing satellites
    • 1969: NASA Apollo 11 mission places first retroreflector array on Moon to begin international Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) effort.
    • 1975-1976: CNES and NASA launched first passive satellites dedicated to SLR (Starlette and LAGEOS) to begin modern space geodetic era
    • 1975-1979: NASA builds up SLR network for POD support of GEOSAT and SEASAT ocean altimetric missions (10 - 20 cm ranging).
    • 1979-1993: NASA Crustal Dynamics Project (CDP) provides focus for further technology development (1 cm ranging) and international cooperation in defining contemporary tectonic plate motions, regional crustal deformation, Earth Orientation Parameters, Earth gravity field etc.
    • 1992-present: Various US and European remote sensing missions (e.g. ERS-1 & 2, TOPEX/Poseidon, GFO) rely heavily on centimeter orbits provided by SLR. NASA provides the world’s data most precise data and until budget cuts in 2003, provided half of the global SLR data.
    • 1998-present: GSFC selected as the Central Bureau (CB) for the new International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS). The CB is responsible for overseeing global operations of 40 international stations providing cmaccuracy orbits for 20 artificial satellites (and the Moon) and ensuring that all ILRS stations, operations, data, and analysis centers adhere to ILRS standards.
A mock-up of the Vanguard II satelliteVanguard II
The Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS) spacecraft were the first meteorological satellites. The first one was launched in April 1960.TIROS I
The world's first communications satellite was an inflatable mylar sphere called "Echo" that simply reflected transmissions back to Earth.Echo
An artist's concept of one Goddard's Applications Technology Satellites.ATS
Goddard's Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) satellites provided scientists with their first extended look at the Sun in the high-temperature ultraviolet, X-ray and Gamma-ray portions of the electronic magnetic spectrum. The first OSO satellite, pictured here, was launched in March 1962.OSO
The Explorer 42 (Small Astronomy Satellite-A (SAS)), launched on 7 May 1975, studied X-ray sources within and beyond the Milky Way galaxy.Explorer 42/SAS I
The Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) satellite as photographed by an astronaut during the 1984 Space Shuttle mission to repair the ailing satellite.SMM
The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, shown here in one of Goddard's clean rooms, is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise effort to study Earth's climate as an integrated global system.TRMM
The Polar satellite under construction. Polar was one of several satellites included in the International Terrestrial Program effort to look at Sun-Earth connections.Polar
Goddard's International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) was one of the most successful satellites in NASA's history. Designed for a 5-year mission, it was a facility used by thousands of astronomers for nearly 19 years.IUE
Explorer X studied particles and fields in interplanetary space and near Earth's reaches. It was launched on 25 March 1961.Explorer X
The ISEE-3 undergoing evaluation in a dynamic test chamber at Goddard.ISEE-3
A technician checks Goddard's Radio Astronomy Explorer satellite prior to its launch on July 4, 1968.RAE
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