Episode 66: NASA and the Space Program

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 66: NASA and the Space Program

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Now for the podcast:


NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Unlike other US government scientific organizations, it is not part of any of the executive departments. Instead, it is independent and not connected to the military. It oversees not only the US space program but also aeronautics and space research.

NASA was formed in 1958 from other government agencies. It was established in response to the first human-made satellite in history, Sputnik I, launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union in Russia. Because the US was afraid the Soviets would use satellites for nuclear weapons, the US sped up its space program. This competition between countries was called the space race. It was part of the Cold War.

The US launched its own first satellite, Explorer I, in 1958, just before NASA was formed. Three years later, President Kennedy declared that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the 60s. This was one of the biggest projects of NASA. It was named the Apollo program. The phrase ‘moon shot’ in English now means an almost-impossible goal.

In all, there were 17 Apollo flights, or missions. Apollo 11 was the first to land on the moon in 1969. Because the lunar module spacecraft was named ‘Eagle’, when it landed on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “The Eagle has landed.” This phrase is now used for any successful arrival or completion of a goal, especially if it was difficult to do.

Neil Armstrong was the first human to ever set foot on the moon. As he stepped out of the spacecraft, he said the famous words, “One small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Another well-known mission was Apollo 13 in 1970. You may have seen the movie about it, which gave us the famous phrase, “Houston, we have a problem”. The astronauts were speaking to Houston because the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, is NASA’s space mission control center. Nowadays, it also manages the US part of the International Space Station (ISS).

Since the Apollo program, NASA has had many other projects, including the Voyager space probes. Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched in 1977 and are now flying beyond our solar system. Although both have entered interstellar space, they are still sending back information about where they are flying. They carry a gold-plated copper phonograph record containing sounds and images describing Earth life and culture. The popular, influential astronomer and science writer Carl Sagan oversaw the record’s creation. The record’s messages are for any intelligent extraterrestrial life that the probes might encounter.

NASA operated the Space Shuttle program from 1981 to 2011. The shuttles were the first reusable spacecraft. The five shuttles flew 135 missions and helped construct the ISS.

Another big project for NASA is exploring Mars. NASA has already landed four robotic rovers, or exploration vehicles, on Mars, beginning in 1997. Another rover is planned soon.

Nowadays, NASA works with private companies in launching satellites, space probes and other missions. You may have heard of the recent success of the SpaceX rockets and spacecraft that successfully took a two-man team to the ISS. SpaceX vehicles include reusable rockets, in addition to reusable space capsules where people ride. The success of this private company and others has opened up the possibility of space tourism in the near future.

Note: Remember to visit Patreon.com/SlowAmericanEnglish for FREE Bonus Material relating to this episode. Download a pdf file containing a 20-word vocabulary exercise with answer key. If you are a patron, you can use this exercise along with the regular Exercise Worksheet for this episode. Please enjoy and let me know how you like this bonus material.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

For a free transcript and to subscribe to the podcast, visit SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and any other podcast feed reader.

Theme music is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.

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