Since then, NASA has turned its attention to other areas of space research and exploration. It launched the U.S.'s first space station, Skylab, into orbit in 1973 (the station was destroyed in 1979 when it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and broke up, scattering fragments over the Indian Ocean and western Australia.). It made friends with its former nemesis through the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz project, a joint space flight with the U.S.S.R., and continued to work with the Soviet Union -- then Russia, after the nation's breakup -- and other nations on the International Space Station. NASA also developed its first-ever reusable spacecraft, with the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981.
Along the way, NASA's also spent lots of effort on non-manned exploration of our solar system and beyond, with projects like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Exploration Rovers, Cassini-Huygens (which is studying Saturn) and MESSENGER, which is on its way to explore Mercury.
Now, at 50, the agency continues to make grand plans for the future. On its to-do list: a second-generation reusable spacecraft to replace the Space Shuttle, due for retirement in 2010; a manned return to the moon by 2020; and continued unmanned exploration of all parts of our solar system.
As its Website says, "Though nearly 50 years old, NASA is only beginning the most exciting part of its existence."
Above right: The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Challenger_flight_51-l_crew.jpg
Left: A spectacular view of Saturn from the Cassini-Huygens mission. Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Saturn_from_Cassini_Orbiter_(2004-10-06).jpg