The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established in July 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, and became operational in October the same year. “Congress,” the act famously begins, “declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humankind.”
Among the agency’s nine legislative “prime directives” is “[t]he preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.” This mandate has informed NASA’s fundamental role in public STEM education from the very beginning.
Today, the agency funds, administers, or otherwise closely supports almost 100 distinct educational programs, for both students and teachers, at all levels of the curriculum—from Kindergarten camps to post-Doctoral fellowships—and across dozens of disciplines, from rocket science to robotics. Highlights include the Marshall Robotics Academy, the Student Launch Initiative, the FIRST robotics competitions, and the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project, just to name a few.
Besides the specific programs, it is hard to overstate NASA’s achievement in terms of inspiring students of all ages, all over the world. Building and maintaining excitement about a subject, as we’ve written before, is as important to any educational program as the lessons themselves, and maybe even moreso. In the decades since its inception, NASA has repeatedly touched the kid in all of us with wonders, glories, triumphs, tragedies, and heroes (like the late, great Neil Armstrong) that are already legends in their own time—legends that will continue to thrill and inspire generations of young explorers yet to come.
For lifting so many young eyes upward, toward the stars, and for doing so much to keep them there, we are proud to welcome NASA to the running for the 2012 Makey Awards.