The recent announcement of the federal government's National Defense Authorization Act has brought space travel back into the public limelight. This Act specifies plans to redesignate the Air Force Space Command to the U.S. Space Force, and establish it as an independent branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
For the past century, space exploration has been thought of as the new frontier, fostering both hope and excitement for the quest of space travel to planets and galaxies in the depths of outer space.
In the 1960s, JFK’s vision to travel to the moon was embraced by the American people, and finally became a reality in July of 1969.
As hopeful Americans watched the historic first steps on the moon taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong, the national excitement of space travel was soon overshadowed by concerns over the tra-gedies of the Vietnam War.
The NASA program again grasped the attention of Americans in the 1980s with the start of the space shuttle program. But instead of celebrating, the nation mourned over the tragic end to the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. When tragedy struck the space shuttle program again with the deadly explosion of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, enthusiasm for the space program lost public favor.
Despite these tragic setbacks, the spirit of space travel adventure has stayed alive for many, mostly through the magic of Hollywood, but perhaps this new attention around the space program will interest Americans once again.
Although stay at home orders are still in place, you can still learn first hand about the new and exciting events happening in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA is now offering free virtual tours of two of their research centers.
The Langley Research Center, located in Virginia, is making space mobility a reality with the development, testing, and advancement of new vehicles for the NASA program, focusing on the exploration of the Moon and Mars. This includes designing and testing structures for long term, deep space missions.
Much of their work can also be applied to commercial flight, by testing and developing technology used by commercial airlines.
The Langley Center also conducts scientific research on the earth’s atmosphere and climate, which results in improved global measurements of the earth’s atmosphere.
Virtual tours are available for more than 20 different development and test sites of the Langley Center, including Landing and Impact Research, Simulating Flight, Structure and Material Testing, and System Analysis, Concept, and Problem Solving.
To view all that the Langley Research center has to offer, visit www.oh.larc.nasa.gov.
Another NASA center offering virtual tours is the Glenn Research Center, located in Ohio. This center houses the largest, unparalleled space simulation and spacecraft test facility in the world.
The Glenn Research Center’s main objective is to design, develop and advance innovative technology for the NASA space exploration program.
Like the Langley Center, the Glenn Center offers many virtual “360” tours, videos, photographs, and testing in action.
The virtual tours feature many aspects of the center such as the Supersonic Wind Tunnel, Electric Propulsion and Power Lab, Icing Research Tunnel, and the Space Environment Complex.
To view these and other Glenn Research Center test labs, visit www.nasa.gov/centers/glennvirtualtours.
Another great place to “visit” and learn about space crafts and the U.S. space program is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This museum has two locations, one in Washington D.C. and one in Virginia; however, both can be toured from the safety and comfort of your own home.
The Smithsonian offers a vast selection of virtual tours, videos, and interactive activities and games on a wide variety of subject matters dealing with both military and commercial air flight as well as space exploration. Many of the virtual exhibits and activities can be selected for specific age groups for students from K-12 grade.
The Smithsonian also offers a podcast that addresses analysis of current NASA missions, reviews the latest space movies, and offers little known histories of specific artifacts.
To listen to podcasts, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Radio Public, or Stitchers.
For more information on Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum virtual tours and exhibits, visit www.airandspace.si.edu.
NASA recently announced that they would soon let private citizens visit the International Space Center, of course, for a hefty fee. Cost may prohibit most of the general public from ever attending the International Space Center, but in this age of the newly announced U.S. Space Force, why not “boldly go where no man has gone before” for free, with one of the many space center online tours.