50 years ago today, US president Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, sparking the birth of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – better known to us as NASA. The first of nine objectives for NASA in that space act was “The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space”. Here, Nature News looks back at triumphs and tragedies from the agency’s history.
Hubble’s highs and lows
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, and has had a career filled with many scientific highs, and some technical lows. In 1994, the telescope managed to watch Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smash into Jupiter. It has also seen the birth and death of many stars, including the Cat’s Eye Nebula – a glowing gas plume produced in a star’s death throes – pictured here by Hubble. Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly to Hubble to carry out essential maintenance in October, possibly the last repair job before the aged telescope is pensioned off.