USRA was founded in 1969, near the beginning of the Space Age, driven by the vision of two individuals, James Webb (NASA Administrator 1961-1968) and Frederick Seitz (National Academy of Sciences President 1962-1969). They recognized that the technical challenges of space would require an established research base to develop novel concepts and innovative technologies. Together, they worked to create USRA to satisfy not only the ongoing need for innovation in space, but also the need to involve society more broadly so the benefits of space activities would be realized.
Today, USRA works across a wide spectrum of disciplines stemming from the range of challenges originally posed by the space program. From biomedicine to astrophysics, from basic research to facility management and operations, USRA is helping enable the study of the Universe from ground, airborne, and orbiting observatories, the study of Earth from space-based platforms, the development of advanced technologies for complex spacecraft, the human exploration of space by astronauts, and much more.
Key to USRA's capabilities is the role of universities. In 2015, more than 350 universities were directly involved in USRA activities. The USRA business paradigm is to engage the creativity and authoritative expertise of university faculty and their students and deliver to government sponsors sophisticated, forward-looking solutions, on schedule and within budget. USRA objectively focuses on sponsor needs in these key areas:
Universities are also a part of USRA's governance structure. 106 universities, all major research institutions, provide oversight solely as a public service. All USRA activities are conducted without bias or preference.