It's NASA's 51st birthday today! The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was signed into existence by Congress as a reorganization of the American space effort under a unified agency. It replaced its predecessor NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Less than three years later, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space on the historic sub-orbital flight of Freedom 7.
Today in space, the astronauts aboard Endeavour have been preparing for a Friday re-entry and landing after undocking with the ISS yesterday. Not surprisingly, after the tragic end of Columbia and death of her crew in 2003, shuttle crews now take care in external inspection of the orbiter (specifically the thermal protection system, including the reinforced carbon-carbon on the leading edges of the wings and the nose cap) prior to re-entry.
(Yes, I follow @Astro_127 on Twitter!)
Did you know that the Vision for Space Exploration calls for the Shuttle Transportation System to be retired by 2010? That's really soon. And what's on the space program's future horizons? More trips to the Moon, as well as Mars and beyond. You can read thoughts on the transition to the new program from NASA's new administrator, Charles Bolden, here.
We live in exciting times with such rapid advancements in technology being made; but then again, I tend to think that almost any period of history would have been an exciting time in which to live, in one way or another!