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USRA has a storied heritage that traces back to the formation of the Lunar Science Institute by the National Academy of Sciences in 1968 at the height of the Apollo program.


At the end of more than a year of planning, USRA was the new organization that was agreed upon by the NAS, NASA, and representatives of the university research community. USRA was incorporated in the District of Columbia as an independent nonprofit association of universities on 12 March 1969.

USRA soon took over the management of the Lunar Science Institute (later renamed the Lunar and Planetary Institute). In the following decades, the Association has managed a number of different institutes and programs in disciplines that include:

  • Astronomy and astrophysics
  • The behavior of materials and fluids in the space environment
  • Computer science
  • Earth science
  • Human physiology in the space environment
  • Immersive training for students in the space and earth sciences
  • Lunar and planetary science
  • Numerical and applied mathematics
  • Space-related technology development

Though USRA has managed institutes and programs in a wide variety of areas and for different sponsors, its principles of operation have remained as envisaged by James Webb, namely to conduct research and manage programs in ways that support both the university space research community and federal agencies.

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