In July 1958, Congress passed legislation establishing NASA, in response to the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. Later that year, NASA began Project Mercury, the first U.S. human spaceflight program. On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully landed humans on the moon for the first time in history.
On August 27, 1962, NASA launched Mariner 2, the first space probe to conduct a successful planetary encounter. On November 28, 1964, it launched Mariner 4, the first space probe to make a successful flyby of Mars. On March 3, 1972, it launched Pioneer 10, the first probe to traverse the asteroid belt and make a flyby of Jupiter. On July 4, 1976, NASA successfully landed Viking 1 on Mars.
On April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with two crew members on board. On January 28, 1985, the space shuttle orbiter Challenger broke apart less than two minutes after launch, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle orbiter Columbia broke apart over Texas while re-entering the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on board. The shuttle program officially ended with the landing of the shuttle orbiter Atlantis on July 21, 2011.
The NASA Authorization Act was passed into law in 2010, authorizing NASA to begin work on a manned mission to Mars.