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Before exploring space, NASA pilots prepared for the experience by flying high-altitude aircrafts. Here, a test pilot looks up as a B-52 soars over California in 1969.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Neil Armstrong stands in front of the X-15 rocket plane in 1959. Just a decade later, Armstrong would become the first human to set foot on the Moon. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Joe Walker, known as "Cowboy Joe," leaps into an X-1A aircraft in 1955. Before he became a chief research pilot for NASA, he worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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NASA astronaut Walter Schirra, one of the men who participated in Project Mercury.
The first human spaceflight program in America, Project Mercury focused on getting a man into orbit. 1959. NASA
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NASA scientists test a model of the Mercury capsule in a "spin tunnel" in 1959.NASA
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Three months before NASA launched the first American man into space in 1961, they sent a chimpanzee named Ham first. Fortunately, his mission was successful.
Taught to pull levers in response to sound and light, Ham performed his tasks well in space — moving only slightly slower than he had on Earth. This showed that humans would be able to do the same. NASA
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In 1959, Nancy Roman joined NASA. Just a year later, she was already serving as the Chief of the Astronomy and Relativity Programs in the Office of Space Science. She would later go on to work on iconic projects like the Hubble telescope. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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The Mercury Seven — NASA's first group of space travelers — gather for a photo during their survival training exercises in Nevada. 1960.NASA
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In 1962, John Glenn became the first American to complete a full orbit around the Earth during Project Mercury. NASA
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John Glenn during Mercury pre-launch activities. January 23, 1962.
NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Glenn enters the Mercury "Friendship 7" Spacecraft during pre-launch preparations. February 20, 1962. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Glenn’s famous words from space were “Zero G, and I feel fine.” NASA
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A Gemini capsule is tested in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel at Ames Research Center in California in 1962. Unlike the Mercury capsules, the Gemini capsules held two astronauts instead of just one. And they were meant to test extravehicular activity — like spacewalks.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Astronauts participate in tropical survival training near the Panama Canal in 1963.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Gene Kranz in the Mission Control room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1965. As a flight director, Kranz played an important role in the mission that put men on the Moon.NASA
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Ed White and James McDivitt pilot the Gemini 4 mission in 1965. This mission saw the first U.S. spacewalk, which was performed by White. NASA
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Ed White, out for his famous spacewalk. June 1965. NASA
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Patricia McDivitt and Patricia White call their husbands, James and Ed, during the Gemini 4 mission. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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After returning to Earth, White and McDivitt get a congratulatory call from President Lyndon B. Johnson. NASA
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Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan sit in their Gemini spacecraft with the hatches open while awaiting the arrival of the recovery ship U.S.S. Wasp. June 6, 1966. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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The Apollo 1 crew prepares for water egress training at the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right: astronauts Edward H. White II, Virgil I. Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee. October 27, 1966. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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The crew of Apollo 1, just weeks before they were tragically killed when a fire erupted in their capsule during testing. It was one of NASA's most horrific accidents. 1967. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Walter Schirra commands the Apollo 7 mission in 1968. The first crewed Apollo space mission, this trip saw the first live TV broadcast of Americans from space.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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A photo of Walter Cunningham, shot by Walter Schirra during the Apollo 7 mission. October 1968.
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William Anders captured the first "Earth-rise" ever to be seen by humans during the Apollo 8 mission. December 1968.
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Jim McDivitt orbits the Earth during the Apollo 9 mission in 1969. NASA
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The Apollo 11 crew — Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin — smile for the cameras in 1969, just a couple months before they would take their historic trip to the Moon. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Spiro Agnew join the crowds to see the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969. Eerily, the current President Richard Nixon had a somber speech prepared just in case the astronauts did not survive their mission.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Buzz Aldrin gears up as Apollo 11 approaches the Moon. As was the case with many Apollo 11 photos, Neil Armstrong was the man behind the camera.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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One of the first "bootprints" on the Moon, made by Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. July 20, 1969.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin would later quip, "I know the sky is not the limit, because there are footprints on the Moon — and I made some of them!"NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Neil Armstrong, the first man to ever walk on the Moon, photographed by Buzz Aldrin. This is one of the only clear images of Armstrong on the Moon's surface. July 1969. Huffington Post
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After landing on the Moon, the crew of Apollo 11 (Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin) returned home to Earth on July 24, 1969. Upon splashing down, the astronauts underwent a 21-day quarantine. The purpose of this was to protect against the possibility of "lunar contagion." (This procedure was discontinued after Apollo 14.)NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Mission Control celebrates with cigars and American flags after the first successful Moon landing in 1969. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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The Apollo 11 astronauts don sombreros and ponchos during a parade in Mexico City. This happened just a couple months after they visited the Moon. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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The Apollo 12 lunar Extravehicular Activity (EVA) crew members, Pete Conrad and Al Bean, conduct a simulation of the lunar surface activity planned for their mission at a training session held at the Kennedy Space Center. October 6, 1969. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Disaster almost struck NASA during Apollo 13's failed mission in 1970. Here, the Mission Control team celebrates the flight crew's safe return to Earth. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Before Apollo 13 became NASA's most famous "successful failure," the astronauts on board were merely struggling to survive. Due to a disastrous oxygen tank explosion, they were forced to abandon their mission of visiting the Moon and instead focus on returning safely to Earth.
Here, the Apollo 13 astronauts step aboard the U.S.S. Iwo Jima after successfully splashing down in the South Pacific. From left: Fred. W. Haise, Jr., James A. Lovell Jr., John L. Swigert Jr. April 17, 1970.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Ellen Weaver, a biologist, helps develop instrumentation to be used in satellites for monitoring the ocean in 1973.NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Edgar Mitchell photographs Alan Shepard holding the American flag on the Moon's surface during the Apollo 14 mission. February 1971.
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The rover's tracks lead away from the lunar module during the Apollo 14 mission. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Apollo 16 lifts off in April 1972. This would be the fifth mission to land men on the Moon. Huffington Post
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The Apollo 16 crew trains for a lunar landing in 1972. NASA on The Commons/Flickr
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Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt plants a flag on the Moon in December 1972. This remains the most recent time that humans have set foot on the Moon.NASA
44 Historic NASA Photos From The Glory Days Of Space Exploration
The formation of NASA has its origins in the Cold War. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik — a 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite — in 1957, American leaders were caught off guard. Since the United States wanted to be a global leader when it came to technology, the country decided to expand the Cold War "battlefield" into outer space.
About one year after the Sputnik launch, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. This officially established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an agency that would help Americans catch up to — and hopefully surpass — their Soviet rivals in the so-called "Space Race."
In the following years, NASA launched a sequence of programs — Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo — that would systematically check off all the steps needed to explore space. Mercury focused on getting a man into orbit. Gemini put two-men teams into space to maneuver a craft and perform spacewalks. Apollo headed to the Moon — and our world would change.
These were the glory days of manned spaceflight. On July 20, 1969, the scientists at NASA completed one of the most amazing feats in human history when two astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. The gallery of NASA photos above celebrates the people who made that milestone happen, and who built on its success in the years afterward.
The Early Days Of NASA
Huffington PostIn one of the most iconic NASA photos, Buzz Aldrin takes the first selfie in space while aboard Gemini 12 in 1966.
Even before NASA, Congress had already founded an agency to help the United States play catch-up when it came to technology. The National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) was an independent government agency brought together on March 3, 1915. This agency's primary purpose was to catch up with European airplane technology.
But NACA engineers were already dreaming of space travel. So when NASA began operations on October 1, 1958, they absorbed NACA intact: its 8,000 employees, and an annual budget of $100 million.
Other organizations also consolidated into NASA. One notable group was the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which had just launched the first U.S. satellite — Explorer 1 — earlier that same year.
According to NACA engineer Robert Hendricks, "The transition between the two organizations was seamless... So in the early days, the attitude was still 'Let's get the job done.'"
This isn't to say there weren't issues. "We were having mostly explosions with our rockets, said Charlie Duke, an astronaut in the Apollo program. "It seemed like 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... blow-up more than lift-off back in those days."
Eventually, NASA got with the program — or, to be more precise, several different programs.
NASA Photos: Capturing The Space Age
Huffington PostA photo of the Earth taken from space. July 11, 1969.
Project Mercury was NASA's first man-in-space program, and it began in 1958. Its objectives included orbiting a manned spacecraft around Earth, studying human function in space, and returning that human back home safely. A single Mercury capsule held just one astronaut, and a total of six manned spaceflights occurred during the Mercury project.
As one might expect, there were usually cameras around to document these exciting moments — capturing the attention of everyone from ordinary Americans to top leaders of the United States.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set the stage for America's emerging space program before a joint session of Congress. He said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth."
Fueled by the president's enthusiasm and competition with the Soviet Union, NASA began to take shape. As they prepared for lunar missions, they established the Launch Operations Center in 1962. However, the name of that center would soon change. Shortly after Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the center was renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
Just a couple years later, Project Gemini took off in 1965 and lasted until 1966. Named after the constellation with the Latin name for "twins," a Gemini capsule held two astronauts instead of just one. This program boasted 10 crewed flights, a few more than the Mercury program.
The Gemini program saw its fair share of accomplishments. Gemini 4 showcased the first American spacewalk, and Gemini 11 flew higher than any NASA spacecraft had at that point. And all along the way, cameras were present to capture these exciting milestones, preserving them forever.
The Apollo program is of course known for its Moon missions. Perhaps the most famous was Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong made a "small step" onto the lunar surface in 1969. Not only was it the first time that mankind left the Earth's orbit to visit another "world," but it also set the stage for further exploration. Apollo put a total of 12 men on the Moon during its run.
Sadly, the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 remains the most recent time that humans have been to the Moon.