By James Rogers-Fox News
NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary Monday, honoring the incredible achievements and sacrifices made by the men and women involved in America’s space program.
“For six decades, NASA has led the peaceful exploration of space, making discoveries about our planet, our solar system, and our universe,” explains the space agency on its website. “As we celebrate NASA’s first 60 years of achievement, we honor the sacrifice that came with it: the tragic loss of lives including aviation pilots and the crewmembers of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.”
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee were killed in the tragic Apollo 1 fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Seven crewmembers, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe, lost their lives when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. The seven-person crew of the Columbia died when the space shuttle broke up during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003.
From putting Americans on the Moon to its Mars exploration missions and hunts for new planets, NASA continues to grip the public’s imagination. In August, for example, the agency’s Parker Solar Probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on a historic mission to the Sun. The $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Parker will be the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere. It is expected to reach the Sun in November.
Mars also looms ever larger in NASA’s future. The agency’s goal is to send a manned mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
Additionally, the Trump administration has cited Moon missions a key element of the 2019 NASA budget. President Donald Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.
In December, Trump signed a policy directive instructing NASA to “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.” The move, Trump said, “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-time exploration.”
The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.
NASA is also highlighting its contribution to U.S. industry and scientific research during its 60th anniversary. “At home, NASA research has made great advances in aviation, helped to develop a commercial space industry, enrich our economy, create jobs, and strengthen national security,” it said, on its website. “Outside the United States, our international partnerships shine as examples of diplomacy. Space exploration has brought together people of diverse backgrounds working for the good of all humankind.”
Fox News Madeleine Rivera and The Associated Press contributed to this article.