Library Index » Science Encyclopedia » Space Organizations Part 1: NASA - A New Agency Is Born, Peaceful Versus Military Purposes, Nasa Shoots For The Moon, Space Science Suffers

Space Organizations Part 1: NASA - Nasa's Organization And Facilities

center research flight located

NASA's organizational structure is quite complex because the agency does not use a traditional top-down management style. NASA uses a matrix-style structure that relies on two management levels: agency level and enterprise level. In addition, NASA facilities, called centers, exercise control over certain major decisions. There are nine NASA centers scattered around the country.

Agency-level management takes place at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. People at this level interact with national leaders and NASA customers regarding overall agency concerns, such as budget, strategy, policies, and long-term investments. Headquarters is considered the centralized point of accountability and communication between NASA and people outside the agency.

Enterprise-level managers are responsible for developing budgets and strategies, allocating resources, and setting and implementing policies and standards for their particular enterprise (aerospace technology, biological and physical research, earth science, human exploration and development of space, or space science). Each enterprise is led by managers at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., but the individual centers are responsible for executing specific enterprise programs.

As explained in NASA literature: "Headquarters determines what the mission is and explains why it is necessary; the centers determine how we will implement it." The centers provide the facilities, buildings, and support services for the missions.

NASA Centers

Figure 2.3 shows the locations of NASA headquarters and the nine field centers.

NASA sites

Each center supports multiple enterprises. Each center is also assigned a particular area of expertise for which it is supposed to build and maintain human resources, facilities, and other capabilities. NASA calls these "centers of excellence."


The Ames Research Center (ARC) is located in Mountain View, California. It was founded as an aeronautics research laboratory in 1939 adjacent to a military base later named Moffett Field. The base was closed in 1994 and its facilities and runways turned over to ARC. The center conducts research in astrobiology (the origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny of life in the universe), air traffic management, supercomputing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other areas of importance to space exploration. It also conducts wind tunnel testing and flight simulations. ARC is a center of excellence for information technology. As of 2004 Ames employed more than 2,800 personnel.


The Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) is located at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, California. The base was the site of joint NACA military testing of high-speed experimental aircraft during the late 1940s. In 1959 the high-speed flight station at the base was designated a NASA flight research center. DFRC is NASA's primary installation for flight research. It also serves as a back-up landing site for the space shuttle. DFRC is a center of excellence for atmospheric flight operations.


The Glenn Research Center (GRC) is located in Cleveland, Ohio, at Lewis Field adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. It began in 1941 as NACA's Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. GRC researches and develops technologies in aeropropulsion, aerospace power, microgravity science, electric propulsion, and communications technologies for aeronautics and space applications. Its facilities include the nearby Plum Brook field station at which large-scale testing is conducted. GRC is a center of excellence for turbomachinery (turbine-based machines).


The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is located in Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1959 as NASA's first space flight center. GSFC is a major laboratory for developing robotic (unmanned) scientific spacecraft. The center also operates the Wallops Flight Facility near Chincoteague, Virginia, and the Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. Wallops is NASA's principal installation for managing and implementing suborbital research programs. The IV&V facility was formed following the space shuttle Challenger accident to ensure that mission-critical software is safe and cost-effective.

In 1966 NASA established the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) at GSFC. The NSSDC became the archive center for data from NASA's space science missions and continues to serve that purpose. Space science data from NASA missions are made available to researchers and, in some cases, to the general public.

GSFC is a center of excellence for earth science and physics and astronomy.


The Johnson Space Center (JSC) is located in Houston, Texas. It was established in 1961 to be the focus of the manned space flight program. At that time, it was known simply as The Manned Spacecraft Center. In 1973 the Center was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in honor of the late President's support of NASA space programs during the 1950s and 1960s.

The JSC houses the program offices and mission control centers for the space shuttle and the International Space Station. JSC facilities are used for astronaut training and spaceflight simulations for both these programs. Aircraft used to train astronauts and to support the space shuttle program are stationed at nearby Ellington Field, a joint civilian/military airport operated by the City of Houston. JSC is a center of excellence for human operations in space.


The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is located on Merritt Island, Florida, adjacent to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The air force station was the site of the Mercury and Gemini launches of the early 1960s. KSC was created specifically for the Apollo missions to the Moon. The center provides launch and landing facilities for the space shuttle program and performs maintenance, assembly, and inspection services on the spacecraft. It is also responsible for packaging components of the laboratory experiments that are used on the space shuttle. KSC is a center of excellence for launch and payload processing systems.


The Langley Research Center (LRC) is located in Hampton, Virginia. In 1917 it was established as the country's first civilian aeronautics laboratory. LRC designs and develops military and civilian aircraft, conducts atmospheric flight research, and tests structures and materials in wind tunnels and other testing facilities. It is a center of excellence for structures and materials.


The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is located near Huntsville, Alabama, on the Redstone Arsenal Site. During the 1950s a team of rocketry specialists led by Wernher von Bruan worked at the arsenal site developing rockets for the U.S. military. In 1960 the Redstone Arsenal Site's space-related projects and personnel were transferred to the newly formed MSFC. The center developed the Saturn rockets used throughout the Apollo program. MSFC manages the manufacturing contracts for the space shuttle main engine, external tank, and reusable solid rocket motor. The center also conducts research in micro-gravity and space optics and develops programs for space shuttle pay-loads. It is a center of excellence for space propulsion.


The Stennis Space Center (SSC) is located in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It was founded in 1961 as the static test facility for launch vehicles to be used in the Apollo program. SSC is home to the largest rocket propulsion test complex in the United States. It is NASA's primary installation for testing and flight-certifying rocket propulsion systems for the space shuttle and other space vehicles. The center also works with government and commercial partners to develop remote sensing technology. SSC is a center of excellence for rocket propulsion testing systems.

Other NASA Facilities

There are numerous facilities and installations that provide support to the field Centers and are either operated by NASA or under contract to NASA. Some of the major ones are described below.


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is located in Pasadena, California. This facility is owned by NASA but operated under a contractual agreement by the California Institute of Technology. JPL began informally during the 1930s as a group of student rocket enthusiasts under the direction of Professor Theodore von Kármán, head of the university's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. These rocket scientists achieved funding for their projects from the U.S. Army, and by the 1940s they were investigating new technologies in aerodynamics and propellant chemistry under the name of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 1958 JPL was transferred from Army jurisdiction to NASA.

Jet propulsion is no longer the primary focus at JPL. The facility now serves as NASA's primary operator of robotic exploration missions. It also manages and operates NASA's Deep Space Network.


The Deep Space Network (DSN) is an international network of antennas that enables NASA mission teams to communicate with distant spacecraft. As shown in Figure 2.4 DSN communications complexes are situated at three locations around the world (roughly 120 degrees apart) in Goldstone, California, Robledo, Spain, and Tidbindilla, Australia. This placement allows the JPL operations control center to FIGURE 2.4
NASA Deep Space Network communications complexes
maintain constant contact with spacecraft as the earth rotates.


The White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) is located at Las Cruces, New Mexico, a remote desert location. WSTF provides services to military and government clients. It is NASA's primary facility for testing and evaluating rocket propulsion systems, spacecraft components, and hazardous materials used in space travel. WSTF supports the space shuttle and ISS programs.

Space Organizations Part 1: NASA - Nasa's Workforce [next] [back] Space Organizations Part 1: NASA - Nasa's Robotic Space Programs

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or