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Happy Cosmic Birthday! NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Celebrates 60 Years

It was 60 years ago today (May 1) that NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center received its official name, in a nod to famous rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard — the person who tested the world's first liquid-fueled rocket.

Early signs installed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. (Image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

The Maryland facility, which used to be called the Beltsville Space Center, has been a central part of space exploration ever since. Its missions' accomplishments including finding the first light in the universe and sending a spacecraft to an asteroid to collect a sample, NASA officials said in a statement. It's also expected to participate in NASA's push to land a human on the moon in 2024.

The center has a wide-ranging mandate to study the Earth, the sun, the solar system and the universe. Since its renaming in 1959, Goddard has sent more than 300 satellites into orbit and secured more than 800 patents; its approximately 50,000 publications have led to several awards, including the Nobel Prize in physics, NASA officials said in the statement. Some of Goddard's work also led to commercial applications, such as telescope mirror grinding techniques being used for improved Lasik surgery machines.

In addition to Goddard's more well-known facilities in Greenbelt, Md., the center has sites in New York, White Sands, New Mexico, Wallops Island, Virginia, Palestine, Texas and Fairmont, West Virginia. These six sites include about 13,000 employees, up twentyfold from around 650 people in 1959.

"I've witnessed many changes at Goddard over the last 56 years of Goddard's 60-year history," Harvey Walden, a computer engineer, said in the statement. "Nothing describes them better than Dr. Robert H. Goddard's own oft-quoted maxim: 'It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.' NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center proves the truth of that statement better than almost any place on Earth."

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.