Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow

Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow


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Since NASA was established in 1958, it has landed rovers on distant planets and launched telescopes deep into space—all so that we can look back to the beginning of time.

Through stunning images provided by NASA and fascinating profiles and sidebars of lesser known contributors to the NASA program, young space fans will learn how NASA started, how it faced challenges along the way, how much it has achieved, and how it will continue to move forward in the future.

NASA’s boundless curiosity and urge to explore lies at the heart of the human adventure. NASA rises to the urgent challenges we face, using its massive reach and expertise to find answers to vital questions like: How can we learn to live in a more extreme natural environment?

Inspired by Rory Kennedy’s documentary of the same name (airing 10/2018), Above and Beyond aims to leave audiences hopeful and inspired about the future of our planet—and convinced that NASA is essential to our continued survival as we mark its important anniversaries and dream of new discoveries to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250308467
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 09/11/2018
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 327,630
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is the author of 8th Grade Superzero, a Notable Book for A Global Society and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. She is the co-author of the NAACP Image Award nominated Two Naomis, a Junior Library Guild selection, and its sequel, Naomis Too. She is the editor of The Hero Next Door, a 2019 anthology from We Need Diverse Books. She lives with her family in NYC, where she writes, makes things, and needs to get more sleep.

Read an Excerpt



ON DECEMBER 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the United States the "first in flight" when they produced the first successful powered airplane. In freezing-cold weather, Orville Wright was airborne for 12 seconds and flew a total of 120 feet. The Americans had rockets. They had airplanes. The United States was ready to soar.

"Not so fast," said other countries around the world. They wanted to get up, up, and away, too. And they did. By 1914, several European countries had passed the US in the development of airplane technology.

The race was on.


Used as a military weapon for centuries, rockets — or "fire arrows" as they were once called — were originally fueled by gunpowder and had an impact reflected in the noise they made, which was described as "thunder." As a teenager, Robert Goddard became fascinated by rockets after reading about them in H. G. Wells's now-classic science-fiction story, The War of the Worlds. Goddard began designing rockets himself, wondering how they could be made to travel to even greater heights. At the same time, a Russian teacher named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was trying to solve the same problem. It wouldn't be the last time an American and a Russian would be in this situation.

Both came to the conclusion that a space-bound rocket would need liquid fuel, which was more powerful. Goddard went on to design and build rockets and suggested that one could be flown to the Moon. He was ridiculed for this proposal and kept his ideas to himself after that. But he kept on thinking and building, and on March 16, 1926, he flew one of his own rockets a distance of about 152 feet — the very first liquid-fueled rocket flight in known history.

Europe continued to develop its own interest in rocketry. German engineer Hermann Oberth wrote a book in 1923 titled The Rocket into Planetary Space. Many read Oberth's work and dreamed of spaceflight; a teenager named Wernher von Braun did a little more than dream.

Von Braun went on to work with Oberth and then with the German Army during World War II, developing rockets for research — and as weapons. He refined his liquid-powered rockets, fueled by ethanol and liquid oxygen, and developed the A4 (or V-2) rocket, which was first launched on October 3, 1942. This successful send-off of a ballistic missile is said to be the start of the Space Age.

As World War II ended, von Braun, who had been a member of the Nazi party, surrendered to American soldiers and was brought to the US. Von Braun and his colleagues set up shop once again and went on to develop the Mercury-Redstone rockets, which launched astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom on the United States' first suborbital flights. The Mercury-Redstone rockets also launched the Pioneer 1 satellite — NASA's first spacecraft — and later they launched John Glenn's historic trip around Earth's orbit.


On March 3, 1915, Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The committee was a small team of volunteers and one employee named John F. Victory. Would his last name be a sign of things to come?

The NACA was an independent government agency that reported directly to the US president. It conducted flight tests throughout the 1910s and 1920s and developed a research facility (Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory). By 1925, the team had grown to include more than 100 employees. The NACA helped develop faster and stronger aircraft. It also worked on simplifying the designs used in World War II aircraft and in the first supersonic airplane (in a partnership with the US Air Force and the Bell Aircraft Corporation). The NACA went on to study missile technology and began to explore the possibilities of sending humans on the ultimate thrill ride — to space. In July 1950, the Bumper 2 was the first rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It reached an altitude of almost 250 miles, which was a record at the time.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) was a period of increased tension and competition between the two world powers that got serious after World War II; by the 1950s, the "space race" was on. In the battle between West and East, each side was determined to demonstrate its superior strength and technological advancements. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to enter Earth's orbit.

President Eisenhower officially congratulated the Soviets a few days later, but the pressure was on. On October 14, the American Rocket Society proposed the development of a new agency, one that focused on research and developments in outer space that were not related to military defense. Americans believed themselves to be great explorers, and if space was the new frontier, then they were going to get in on the game.

But the Soviets continued to blaze ahead. Less than a month after the launch of Sputnik 1, the USSR sent Sputnik 2, the first vehicle carrying a living being, into space — the cosmonaut was a former stray dog named Laika.

Meanwhile, many in science and government felt that the NACA wasn't enough. The US needed something more or, better yet, something new. President Eisenhower proposed legislation to Congress to establish a National Aeronautics and Space Agency, and on July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act was signed into law. Along with it, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was born.


NASA is an independent civilian (not military) agency of the executive branch of government. It was created by Congress, and Congress must approve all its budget and legislation matters. NASA headquarters are in Washington, DC. The big boss — the NASA administrator — works there. NASA also has components around the world, including ten flight and research centers located around the United States. There are also three Deep Space Network (NASA's telecommunication system) facilities located in the United States, Spain, and Australia.

When we think of NASA, the first thing we usually think of are astronauts. But there are 18,000 people who work at NASA, and they do all kinds of jobs. "Scientists at NASA include oceanographers, geologists, agricultural scientists, scientists who study glaciers and ice sheets, and climate scientists, to name just a few," says former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. "But there are also all kinds of engineers who build spacecraft and instruments, and astronauts who observe Earth from space. But NASA also has lawyers, accountants, and doctors. If you think of a profession, one expert probably works at NASA!"


Many of the people at NASA, from astronauts to food scientists to educators, are engineers. So what exactly does an engineer do?

Engineers are often considered problem-solvers, builders, inventors, dreamers, and makers. Engineers generally design solutions to problems in daily life — in NASA's case, on Earth and in space! They look for ways to develop systems that improve society. "As an engineer, you might develop the next generation of the iPad, or a medical device that will help doctors treat an illness, or a spacecraft that will carry humans to Mars, or a system that can bring clean water to an underdeveloped region, or a new power source that is sustainable and provides clean energy, or a device that can detect toxic agents and chemicals, or a new building that is earthquake-safe," saysTryEngineering.org. There are many kinds of engineers, including electrical, mechanical, civil, biomedical, computer, environmental, chemical, and, of course, aerospace. Chances are that if there's a problem you want to solve in the world, engineering can help you do just that!


NASA kickstarted space exploration in the US with the January 1958 launch of its first satellite, Explorer 1. Explorer 1 measured the radiation in Earth's orbit and returned data that eventually demonstrated that Earth was circled by radiation belts, which are named Van Allen belts after the scientist who discovered them. Explorer 1 was the first orbital object to bring science instruments into space. That was soon followed by the launch of Pioneer 1 on October 11, 1958. NASA selected its first group of astronauts in 1959. Those chosen had to have experience with jet airplanes and training in engineering and had to be less than 5 feet 11 inches tall. Seven military men became NASA's first astronauts.

The US was doing big things.

And secret things.

During the Cold War, the US government was increasingly concerned about the possibility of a nuclear attack from the USSR. In 1995, long before Google Maps, it was revealed that a satellite called Corona had been developed by the CIA, the military, and businesspeople to spy on military operations in regions of the USSR. In 1960, Corona was the first vehicle to successfully collect film images from space — which showed that the USSR didn't have the nuclear capabilities that it said it did.

Though US space exploration reassured NASA and the government that Russia was not on the brink of leading the nation to nuclear war, there were other things going on in the Eastern bloc. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the very first human in space, orbiting the earth in Vostok 1. Less than four years after launching Sputnik 1, it looked like Russia had won the space race. By a lot.


"We set sail on this newsea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war."

— President John F. Kennedy, "We choose to go to the Moon" speech, September 12, 1962

"Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce," said President Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address. That sounds nice and friendly, but make no mistake, the space race was still on.

Playing a game of catch-up, NASA's Project Mercury, the first US program dedicated to putting humans in space that had been established near the end of 1958, took center stage. Project Mercury sent its first American, Alan Shepard, into space on May 5, 1961, on a 15 /-minute flight that went 116 miles into the air. Appealing to Congress, President Kennedy announced a new goal — sending humans to the Moon and then bringing them back safe and sound. Kennedy reportedly held out hope that the space program could be a vehicle for cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union, but he ultimately held firm that "this is, whether we like it or not, a race." NASA's budget was increased significantly. The country was shooting for the Moon.

John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. He went around three times and spent about five hours in space.


While the names Shepard and Glenn are among the most well-known, there were actually seven men chosen to be NASA's first space travelers. Called "astronauts" after the Argonauts of Greek legend and the pioneers of balloon travel, these men might have seemed average. They were highly trained test pilots and engineers who underwent rigorous assessments before being allowed to take a spacewalk. Each endured a week of medical and psychological evaluations, 30 different laboratory examinations, physical endurance exercises, and more. "In addition to pressure-suit tests, acceleration tests, vibration tests, heat tests, and loud-noise tests, each candidate had to prove his physical endurance on treadmills, tilt tables, with his feet in ice water, and by blowing up balloons until exhausted," reports NASA. The men went through continuous psychiatric evaluation and even had to live with psychiatrists. They took personality tests that required they answer questions like, "Who am I?" NASA psychologist and researcher Robert Voas explained: "The purpose of the testing program at Wright Field was to determine the physical and psychological capability of the individual to respond effectively and appropriately to the various types of stresses associated with space missions." Those first seven — Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Shepard, and Slayton — went on to become American space celebrities, but foremost they were brave volunteers committed to advancing the cause of space exploration.


It looked like an amusement-park ride and probably felt a bit like one, too. The gimbal rig was used to test the effects of spinning on the body. Astronauts sat inside three aluminum cages that simulated the tumbling movements that could be expected in space travel. The cages could revolve together or separately, tossing the astronauts around at a speed of up to 30 revolutions per minute. The seven Project Mercury astronauts trained on the gimbal rig for five hours each; soon after, 13 women, known as the Mercury 13, did the same.


Before the US could send humans into a zero-gravity environment, they had to understand the effects of long-term exposure to that environment. NASA recruited eleven deaf men, nicknamed the Gallaudet Eleven (they came from what is now Gallaudet University), whose inner ear damage made it so that they never experienced motion sickness. The men — Harold Domich, Robert Greenmun, Barron Gulak, Raymond Harper, Jerald Jordan, Harry Larson, David Myers, Donald Peterson, Raymond Piper, Alvin Steele, and John Zakutney — spent over a decade undergoing testing and experiments in many different conditions and environments. One test involved sailing in very rough waters off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. The Gallaudet Eleven played cards and relaxed, but the researchers got so sick that the experiment had to end! Once, four of the Gallaudet Eleven spent 12 days inside the "Vomit Comet" — a 20-foot, constantly revolving room that offers a roller coaster–like experience of weightlessness. You might guess the reason why it got that name. The work of the Gallaudet Eleven went a long way toward our understanding of the human body's adaptation to space travel. They were instrumental in the development of the US space program.

In his historic "We choose to go to the Moon" speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed that "those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it — we mean to lead it." Kennedy was talking about living out dreams and achieving the fantastic; he knew well that this commitment to space exploration was "an act of faith and vision."


Project Apollo was first established by NASA under President Eisenhower as a three-astronaut follow-up to Project Mercury's one-man jaunts into space. But later, President Kennedy's goal of landing a human being on the Moon became NASA's first priority. While many were interested in "beating" the Soviet Union, the larger purpose of scientific exploration and discovery was what made the idea exciting to others. "This was really exploration at its finest," said astronaut Jim Lovell, who was on the crew of two of the most famous Apollo missions, 8 and 13.

The Apollo missions had a bumpy beginning, including a tragic preflight fire on January 27, 1967, onboard what became known as Apollo 1. Edward H. White, the man who took the first spacewalk; Gus Grissom; and Roger Chaffee lost their lives. Two days later, Flight Director Gene Kranz addressed his brokenhearted team: "Space flight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been a design in build or in test, but whatever it was, we should have caught it ... From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: tough and competent. Tough means we will forever be accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control, we will know what we stand for ... When you leave this meeting today, you will go to your office, and the first thing you'll do is write tough and competent on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room, these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee."


Excerpted from "Above and Beyond"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Discovery Licensing, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Copyright Notice,
Chapter One: It's On,
Chapter Two: A Look in the Mirror,
Chapter Three: Separate and More than Equal to the Task,
Chapter Four: Losing Luster,
Chapter Five: "Star Wars" and Seeing Stars,
Chapter Six: World Peace ... in Space,
Chapter Seven: Overcoming Challenges,
Chapter Eight: No More Monkey Business,
Chapter Nine: Making Impossible real,
Chapter Ten: NASA and the Environment,
Chapter Eleven: New Visions, New Voices,
Chapter Twelve: Living in Space, Journey to Mars ... and Beyond,
Photo Credits,
About the Author,

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