NASA, Fifty Years Young

On this day half a century ago, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. With an executive flick of the wrist, imaginations (and patriotic intentions) spread beyond the terrestrial sphere.

Of course, it's all relative. Fifty years, in cosmic terms, is a split second. Case in point: as of March 2007, our most distant space probe, Voyager 1, was 14 light-hours (or in earth calculations, 30 years of travel) from our lovely patch of green. NASA itself started as a Space Race measure against Sputnik speculation, took "one small step" in 1969, and now has its own television channel.

NASA's achievements over its first five decades have been nothing short of otherworldly. And to be frank (Borman?), we still want to be astronauts. Thus, we hope that billionaire bad boy Richard Branson (who says we need to be astronauts) and his latest intrepid enterprise, Virgin Galactic, eventually provide affordable access to cosmic wonders-on our current salary, $200,000 is astronomical. For now, check out Wired's extensive coverage and the BBC's video timeline of NASA milestones.

UPDATE:More news on Branson's super starship.