We’ve all had nights when we’ve laid down, stared at the sky, and awed at the vast expanse of the Universe that exists out there. There are things out there that we know about, there are things that we know we don’t know about and then there are things about which we don’t even know that we don’t know.
The world beyond our own is so mysterious and beautiful that since time immemorial people have devoted their lives to unraveling its mysteries. Today there exists in every major country, space agencies leading the efforts of discovering our Universe and the Space that exists beyond our horizons. Here are some of the foremost space agencies in the world.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
This list cannot start without mentioning NASA. Established on October 1, 1958, by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, NASA is the biggest and foremost space agency in the world with an annual budget of $24 Billion for the year 2022. With successful missions like- The Apollo 11, The Freedom 7, The Mars Science Laboratory, and many more, NASA made headway in the race of space exploration early on and has continued to be the leading space agency worldwide.
China National Space Administration (CNSA)
China National Space Administration (CNSA) is the Chinese government’s space organization which was founded in the year 1993. CNSA has its very own launch system named Long March and with its three launch facilities- Jiuquan in Gansu province; Taiyuan in Shanxi province; and Xichang in Sichuan province, and its own space station- Tiangong Space Station, it is one of the few space agencies of the world that is not involved with ISS and carries out mostly independent space programs.
It was on October 15, 2003, that CNSA launched astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit, and made China the third country to achieve human space flight. Since then the CNSA has continued to progress and in January 2019 it’s Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon.
European Space Agency (ESA)
It is headquartered in Paris and was formed in 1975 with the merging of the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) and the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), with 10 founding member countries. This space agency is an intergovernmental organization with 22 member European states (as of 2022). ESA funnels in resources and funding from the 22 member states and coordinates them for progress in space research and technology.
ESA has had a very active astronaut program, which started with the Spacelab agreement with NASA, but otherwise, the most notable contribution of ESA has been through the development of spacecraft and instruments, and unmanned missions like Rosetta, Venus Express, LISA Pathfinder, and James Webb Space Telescope.
Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS)
In 1992, the Russian Federal Space Agency was formed to carry on the Soviet Space Program after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and this agency, later on, was merged with United Rocket and Space Corporation to form the ROSCOSMOS we know today. ROSCOSMOS has been one of the major partners in ISS and with the launch facilities of Baikonur and Vostochny a major provider of launch services to other countries.
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ROSCOSMOS has had the legacy of the Soviet Space Program with achievements like the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon (Luna 1), the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik-1), the first space flight to orbit with more than one crewman (Vokshod 1) and the first man and woman in space (Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova). It is now working with ESA on the major Mars mission- ExoMars.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)
India entered the field of space research with the setting up of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962 which set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS). This organization was superseded by the Indian Space Research Organization which was formed in 1969, carrying forth India’s space ambitions. With one of the largest fleets of communication satellites (INSAT) and remote sensing (IRS) satellites, and its cost-efficient and reliable launch systems, ISRO is one of the six largest space agencies in the world.
The first successful first attempt at Mars mission- Mangalyan, the largest number of satellites (104) launched at once, development of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) have been some of the highlights of ISRO’s achievements.
This list would be incomplete if we do not mention SpaceX, the only private company that has been successful in making its place among the various space agencies of the world. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 to realize his Mars dreams. Since its inception, SpaceX has achieved many firsts like- the liquid-fueled Falcon 1 reaching orbit and Dragon 1 attaching with the ISS being some of the first privately funded and developed successful endeavors, and has set milestones in the space race. And the Falcon 9 with its unprecedented re-usability and propulsive landing capabilities has made major advancements in spacecraft technologies.