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Over 100 years, NASA's top 5 tech advances

Sharon Gaudin | April 1, 2015
NASA, and its predecessor NACA, helped develop computer chips, satellite communications and safer flight.

mit apollo  guidance simulator
An MIT aeronautics engineer checks Apollo's onboard guidance computer programs in a simulator. As part of the work on the Apollo mission, NASA pushed forward integrated circuits, one of the top tech advances from NASA and its predecessor, NACA.Credit: MIT Museum/ Courtesy The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory

One hundred years ago this month, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), launching the nation into a time of advancing aeronautics and eventually space exploration.

A century after the creation of NAC, which later expanded to become NASA, that initial effort has brought advances in not only in space exploration but also in the technologies used in flight, computers and communications.

"Part of what have been so remarkable about NACA and NASA were their ability to solve problems," said Bill Barry, NASA's chief historian. "The engineering approach that they took has been dramatically successful ... They have been able to apply a disciplined engineering approach to technologies that proliferated throughout industry and society. It has had effect in little ways and also in very big ways that today we take for granted."

Earlier this month, NASA celebrated the past 100 years and its achievements in flight, rockets, computers, and exploration.

NACA was formed in March 1915. With no paid staff and a tiny budget, it was far from the world-renowned agency that NASA has become. Despite its size, NACA, during and after World War II, is credited with developing or helping to develop retractable landing gear, jet engine compressors and turbines, and engine cowlings

In the 1950s, when the U.S. turned its attention to space exploration and getting to the moon, NACA, which had focused its research on flight, transitioned into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, moving its focus to space flight.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, was a NACA employee who transitioned over to NASA.

NASA expanded, absorbing the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and parts of the U.S. Army's Ballistic Missile Agency under its umbrella.

"We continue to see the NACA's influence in many areas of our work ..., " said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Just as the NACA did in 1915, NASA today finds solutions to challenges facing the aerospace community that help the nation reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind. I'm proud of our heritage and the innovative work NASA continues to do in aeronautics."

Over the course of the past century, NACA and NASA have been at the heart of significant innovation. (No, NASA did not invent Tang. Sorry to burst that bubble.) The agency's technologies have changed the way we do business, communicate and compute.


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