Vintage NASA images reveal the agency's earliest feats, from launching the first astronauts to building a '70s space station
- The US has been launching spacecraft since 1950, but NASA formed in 1958.
- Vintage photos show the space agency's earliest missions - from training the first astronauts to creating the golden record it sent beyond our solar system.
- These 24 vintage photos give a peek into NASA's early years and missions.
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NASA is preparing to launch its astronauts in the first commercial spacecraft ever built.
But it took decades of experimenting, tinkering, and groundbreaking missions to reach this point. The US has been launching spacecraft since 1950 - before NASA even existed.
The agency keeps a library of historical photos from its earliest projects, including the Mercury missions that launched the first astronauts and the creation of the golden record sent into the cosmos on the Voyager mission.
The images are a window into the long and journey of US space exploration. Here are 24 remarkable vintage photos of NASA's early work.
Before NASA was created, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), formed in 1915 to coordinate US aircraft development.
NACA's research helped the military develop aircraft engines.
Dwight Eisenhower, who was the army's chief of staff at the time, visited the AERL in 1946.
The US launched its first spacecraft in 1950. The upper stage of the Bumper 2 rocket soared 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.
NASA grew out of NACA in 1958. The space agency got straight to work launching America's first satellite, Explorer 1, which circled Earth until 1970.
Technicians and engineers oversaw the liftoff of Explorer 1 from a control room at Space Launch Complex 26 at what was then known as the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex in Florida.
Project Mercury was the US' first human-spaceflight program. NASA started training the future astronauts in the early 1960s.
Alan Shepard, one of the Mercury Seven, became the first American in space in 1961.
Shepard's flight culminated when his Freedom 7 spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.
Jerrie Cobb was the first woman to complete astronaut training as part of the Mercury 13, a group of women who underwent tests alongside the Mercury Seven.
Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.
The same year, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter became the fourth American in space and second to orbit Earth.
NASA's Apollo 4 mission marked the first launch of its Saturn V rocket. The system would later send astronauts to the moon.
The most iconic vintage NASA photos, of course, come from its Apollo program. Apollo 8 astronauts launched on the first-ever crewed moon mission on December 21, 1968.
Apollo 11 put people on the lunar surface for the first time on July 20, 1969. The world watched live on TV.
The unmanned Mariner spacecraft became the first to orbit another planet (Mars) in 1971.
The first US space station was called Skylab; this photo shows its interior chamber. The station included a workshop and solar observatory, and it housed hundreds of science experiments.
Skylab saw three crewed missions during its lifetime.
Joseph Kerwin, Skylab's pilot and doctor, conducted physical exams for astronauts onboard in order to collect data on the physical toll of human spaceflight.
Carl Sagan, best known for his television series "Cosmos," was instrumental in planning NASA's Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s.
Sagan also worked on the Voyager missions, which launched in the summer of 1977 from Cape Canaveral.
Golden records containing eight sound recordings were sent on the Voyager expeditions — a message from humanity to the cosmos.
The inscription "To the makers of music — all worlds, all times." was hand-etched on the records.
Astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983, as a mission specialist on a NASA Space Shuttle launch that deployed two communications satellites.
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