DAVID GREENE, HOST:
NASA is celebrating an anniversary this month.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Sixty years ago, in October of 1958, it was established as a U.S. government agency and opened its doors for business.
GREENE: And about a decade later, this happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Three, two, one, zero. All engines running. Lift off. We have a liftoff.
GREENE: The Apollo 11 mission that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.
MARTIN: Later came the Space Shuttle Era, when astronauts flew in over 100 missions and helped build the International Space Station.
GREENE: And one of those astronauts was Franklin Chang-Diaz, who was born in Costa Rica and says he came to the United States when he was 18 years old.
FRANKLIN CHANG-DIAZ: I came here with $50 and a dream. And the dream was to fly in space and to be a rocket scientist. This is what I wanted to be.
MARTIN: But before he could do that, he had to go back to high school.
CHANG-DIAZ: I had to learn English first. That was my first task. I went to a high school. I had already graduated from high school in my native country of Costa Rica. But I had to learn English, so I enrolled again in high school, and I did my senior year all over again.
GREENE: Before he graduated, Chang-Diaz won a scholarship to the University of Connecticut. He was a student there in 1969.
CHANG-DIAZ: Which was the landing on the moon. And, you know, I saw the landing on the moon from the student union at the University of Connecticut. And I guess I felt that I was a little closer to my goal. But then, the president, Nixon, canceled the program a couple years later.
MARTIN: He's talking about the Apollo program, which was canceled in 1972. It wasn't until the Space Shuttle Era started about a decade later that Chang-Diaz would get his chance. And he took it, flying in seven missions.
GREENE: Now it has been some years since Chang-Diaz was orbiting the Earth. But he thinks the future of space travel may provide him with another opportunity.
CHANG-DIAZ: I never closed the door. I love space. Every time I went there, it was more and more familiar. Every time I left it, I longed to go back. I wish everyone could see it.
MARTIN: So do we. Happy 60th to NASA, giving those that dream of space the chance to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRACEY CHATTAWAY'S "STARLIGHTS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.