As the name suggests, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an United States government agency that is charged with space exploration and research in aeronautical and space engineering.
 What it doesn't
Contrary to popular misconceptions:
- NASA doesn't do astronomy, unless the observatory is on a plane (SOFIA) or in space (Hubble, Spitzer, etc.); even then, most of the people that actually use these instruments are professional astronomers who don't work for NASA (Hubble, for example, is used through the Space Telescope Science Institute).
- Speaking of space telescopes, it seems that only space geeks know that Hubble is not the only one. Wikipedia has a nice list.
- NASA doesn't have a monopoly on space flight within the United States:
- the Armed Forces have their own space projects (e.g. the X-37B) and their own launchpads; NASA's shuttles have launched some spy satellites, but it turned out that launching them with disposable rockets is cheaper.
- commercial satellites are not launched by NASA, but by private contractors (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital Sciences Corporation); the same people provide launch services to NASA and other government agencies (such as launching meteosats for NOAA and spysats for the NRO).
- NASA doesn't have a monopoly on space flight outside of the US:
- Sending people into space is not the primary purpose, nor the primary activity of NASA. Human spaceflight is only one of the many thing it does.
- Contrary to the popular (in some circles) slogan "NASA lies!", the most significant things NASA has been untruthful about are:
- how much money a particular project will cost, and
- how much time it will take to develop it.
Well, the last point is mostly snark, but based on a kernel of truth: NASA's projects often end up over budget and/or behind schedule (Recent examples are the cancelled Constellation program and the James Webb Space Telescope).
NASA takes its directions from the President and its money from the Congress. This sometimes leads to some interesting deals and compromises (and messed-up projects, including the current state of the human spaceflight program). A good illustration is the fact that NASA's budget for fiscal year 2013 was approved in... August 2013, one month before the end of FY 2013. If you are wondering how the goat NASA functioned in the meantime, the answer is "continuing resolutions."
 Space exploration spending
A lot of people think (or at least have expressed the opinion) that a lot of money is spent on space exploration and could be better spent elsewhere. In the case of NASA, this is undermined by the fact that a) nowadays, NASA's budget is less than 1% of the federal budget, and b) the average American has no idea how small NASA's budget actually is. According to a 2007 survey:
“”...we asked respondents what percentage of the national budget is allocated to NASA and to the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services, among other agencies. NASA’s allocation, on average, was estimated to be approximately 24% of the national budget (the NASA allocation in 2007 was approximately 0.58% of the budget.)
And no, NASA did not spend billions of taxpayer dollars developing space pens.
 Current status
Like all other aspects of Barack Obama's presidency, his space policy has been criticized - the spectrum ranging from some NASA veterans to conservatives who still like a bit of socialism in their coffee.
After the Augustine Commission found the aforementioned Constellation program (the result of Bush's Vision for Space Exploration) to be SNAFU, Obama cancelled it in 2010. As he also continued the Bush-era decision to retire the Space Transporation System, this prolonged the gap in the US's indigenous ability to send people into space, ushering comparisons to Nixon's shutdown of the Apollo program.
Conspiracy theorists also jumped on the bandwagon, producing a fuckton of speculation about the cancellation. A typically contorted one is Richard Hoagland's claim that the Norwegian Spiral was a warning shot by space Nazis to intimidate Obama to cancel the program, thus preventing humanitiy from finding out all the Nazi colonies and alien artifacts in the Solar System. Apparently, those wacky Nazis think that "Americans" = "humanity." And even then they had failed to anticipate Elon Musk.
 Bolden's "Muslim outreach"
NASA's primary objectives don't cover Muslim outreach, despite a gaffe made by by current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a 2010 Al Jazeera interview. This caused a shitstorm by wingnuts believing that the Obama administration was pandering to "political correctness." (Ironically, Bolden's idea of getting the Middle East to "feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering" is... quite interesting.)
 See also
- NASA's main website
- To everyone that cried foul over the end of Constellation: You're the problem.
- ↑ Angry Brazilian whacks NASA to put a stop to... er, the NSA
- ↑ The acronym is often decoded as "Never a Straight Answer" by people who wouldn't recognise a straight answer if it hits them in the head, or as "Need Another Seven Astronauts" by people who lack decency. Often the two groups overlap.
- ↑ http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOFIA/
- ↑ The X stands for eXploration. But at least their logo doesn't include a Gundam.
- ↑ Space science: The telescope that ate astronomy, Nature News. There's a nice graph of the "cost curve."
- ↑ http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20130830-finally-an-fy13-nasa-planetary-budget.html
- ↑ One can't be always sure that some kind of thought process is going on.
- ↑ Mary Lynne Dittmar, Sustaining exploration: communications, relevance, and value, The Space Review
- ↑ I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
- ↑  (Kraft has had a history of being horrifically wrong, so take this with a grain of salt.)
- ↑ This would exclude most Fox News viewers.
- ↑ Side note: It's interesting to see how political support for NASA has shifted over the years. (NASA's History Series has some excellent reads.)
- ↑ More here
- ↑ At least keep the name for something down the line, right?
- ↑ It should be noted that a gap was expected even if Constellation was on schedule.
- ↑ The End of Ze World is coming!
- ↑ You can probably tie the death of Islam's intellectual streak to the emergence of theocracies there.