Science Minds Countdown, #1

This is it, the final week of the Science Minds Countdown. I've traveled through time and looked at some of the best and brightest minds that have helped form our knowledge today. It has been a pleasure writing about all of these true geniuses for your information and entertainment. But anyway, now on to the #1 Science Mind.

Put man in space, orbited the earth, landed man on the moon and is now investigating Mars.

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) is the predecessor to our nation's space program. It was formed to look at what it would take to form a space program. NACA did launch Explorer 1 which would be the first US satellite to orbit the earth. President Eisenhower would deliver an address to congress that favored a civilian space agency and submitted his own bill to create a "National Aeronautical and Space Agency."

The act that Eisenhower proposed resulted in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NACA would end up as part of this new administration and so would their research facilities. The three facilities absorbed were Ames Research Laboratory (Mountain View, CA) and Langley Research Laboratory (Hampton, VA) and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (Cleveland, OH). They are now known as Ames Research Center, Langley Research Center and Glenn Research Center. NASA would also obtain California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA started off researching human spaceflight with the Mercury project. This project's goal was to see if man could, in fact, survive in space. They were under pressure due to competition from the Soviets and would end up sending the second man into space. Alan Shepard would become the first American in space and John Glenn would become the first American to orbit the earth.

The next project was Gemini, which was directly related to the moon mission. The missions looked at issues about long-term space mission, spacewalks and docking with another orbiting craft. Gemini missions were the prelude to the Apollo program. During this same period, NASA launched and landed the Mariner 2 probe which would become the first probe to land on another body in the solar system.

Apollo was the project that would put man on the moon. The project started tragically with a fire on Apollo 1 that killed Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. A spark started a fire and mixed with the pure oxygen in the capsule during a test. The subsequent missions would lead up to Apollo 11 which would put Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the surface on the moon. Apollo 13, the ill-fated mission, would prove to be a silver lining. It would prove that NASA was not immune to problems and it would show that they could think on their toes.

After 12 men walked on the moon, NASA was forced to shut down the Apollo mission. They decided to launch Skylab in 1973 and visited by crews three times. It was originally intended to study gravitational anomolies in other solar systems. Unfortunately, due to lacking interest and funding problems, the project was slashed. It was supposed to be moved to a wider orbit during one of the first Space Shuttle launches, but it reentered and crash into the ocean before it could happen. July 1975 saw something unimaginable 10 years earlier, the Apollo-Soyuz mission. This mission would see the docking of the final Apollo mission with a Russian Soyuz space capsule. This would prove to be a sign of things to come.

NASA would launch the Voyager space probes in 1977 and get their first and best looks at the planets of our solar system. To this day, the probes remain operational, but will continue fly further from earth until intercepted by another civilization or destroyed by asteroid, comet or extrasolar planet collision. They are each equipped with a gold record that contains musical pieces, greetings and other stuff that proves that we are intelligent.

After a nearly 6-year absence from manned space missions, NASA finally returned in the newly designed Space Shuttle. Columbia was the first mission back to space. The Shuttle missions started off strong, but the public would quickly lose interest. The Challenger disaster of 1986 would reignite a debate into manned vs. unmanned mission into space. The Shuttle missions would be crucial to the Hubble Space Telescope, which almost made NASA a laughing stock. After it was discovered that Hubble had issues, a mission to the telescope would save NASA's fragile reputation. The Columbia disaster of 2003 would imperil manned space travel again, but it continues.

The US and Russia along with many other space would join together to design and build the International Space Station. The space station is a joint venture between the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan. Concern is growing over the gap between NASA shuttle program shutdown and Orion startup because the shuttle is the primary vehicle to deliver the major assemblies for the station.

NASA has many missions running right now. Currently, New Horizons is heading to Pluto for a 2015 rendezvous since the Voyager probes did not fly by the little, frozen rock. The is a probe on its way to Mercury and, of course, the ongoing investigation of Mars. There are also planned missions to Saturn and Jupiter. Through thick and thin, NASA continues to give us hope that there is more out there to explore. They have had failures, but their successes far exceed them (two Mars rovers that have lasted well longer than projected). NASA is definitely the best choice for #1 on my countdown.

So, do you agree with this choice for #1? If not, who should be in this spot? This Friday I will be posting my list of honorable mentions for this countdown. I really enjoyed writing all of this, because I feel like I've learned something myself. Have a good day.