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Goddard is NASA's first, and oldest, space center. Its original charter was to perform five major functions on behalf of NASA: technology development and fabrication, advance planning, scientific research, technical operations, and project management. Even today, the Center is organized into several Directorates, each charged with one of these key functions.

Until May 1, 1959, NASA's presence in Greenbelt, Maryland was known as the Beltsville Space Center. It was then renamed the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), after Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern rocketry. Its first 157 employees transferred from the United States Navy's Project Vanguard missile program, but continued their work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. while the Center was under construction.

Goddard Space Flight Center contributed to Project Mercury, America's first manned space flight program. The Center assumed a lead role for the project in its early days and managed the first 250 employees involved in the effort, who were stationed at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. However, the size and scope of Project Mercury soon prompted NASA to build a new "Manned Spacecraft Center", now the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. Project Mercury's personnel and activities were transferred there in 1961.

The Goddard Network tracked many early manned and unmanned spacecraft.

Goddard Space Flight Center remained involved in the manned space flight program, providing computer support and radar tracking of flights through a world-wide network of ground stations called the Goddard Network. However, the Center focused primarily on designing unmanned satellites and spacecraft for scientific research missions. Goddard pioneered several fields of spacecraft development, including modular spacecraft design, which reduced costs and made it possible to repair satellites in orbit. Goddard's Solar Max satellite, launched in 1980, was repaired by astronauts on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984. The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, remains in service and continues to grow in capability thanks to its modular design and multiple servicing missions by the Space Shuttle.

Today, the Center remains involved in each of NASA's key programs. Goddard has developed more instruments for planetary exploration than any other organization, among them scientific instruments sent to every planet in the Solar System.[1] The Center's contribution to the Earth Science Enterprise includes several spacecraft in the Earth Observing System fleet as well as EOSDIS, a science data collection, processing, and distribution system. For the manned space flight program, Goddard develops tools for use by astronauts during extra-vehicular activity, and operates the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft designed to study the Moon in preparation for future manned exploration.

  1. ^ Planetary Magnetospheres Laboratory Overview: