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. Facts about NASA, the world's biggest space agency

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 25, 2008
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has the world's largest budget for space exploration with some 17 billion dollars on hand each year for space missions and robotic research.

It was created by the US Congress in July 1958 to challenge the former Soviet Union's rise in the space race, a year after the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into space.

The agency known as NASA officially began operations on October 1, 1958.

Around 19,000 employees work at NASA headquarters in Washington and in its 10 command centers around the United States, along with an additional 40,000 contractors to the space agency.

The most well-known bases are the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida where space shuttles are prepared and launched, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where shuttle mission control and International Space Station operators are located.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is where NASA designs its robotic missions to comets, Mars and other planets in the solar system.

In addition to the Apollo missions to the moon and the construction of the International Space Station through shuttle missions, NASA has launched a series of scientific missions including the repair of the Hubble telescope, which revolutionized astronomy.

A final repair mission is scheduled for October.

Other strong moments for NASA include the missions to Mars of twin robots Spirit and Opportunity since 2004, and in June the launch of the probe Phoenix which confirmed the presence of water on the red planet.

NASA has lately been concentrating more of its efforts on the Constellation program, whose Orion capsule is slated to bring Americans to the moon by 2020 and further in the future, to Mars.

NASA has been led by scientist Michael Griffin since April 2005.

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Johnson space center to reopen next week: NASA
Washington (AFP) Sept 18, 2008
The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, which was shut down as Hurricane Ike barreled toward the US Gulf Coast, will reopen next week, US space officials said Thursday.

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