Over the years it has also contributed to many milestones in the history of flight.
Explore the pictures above or check out the first of our videos and articles from a recent behind the scenes tour of this extraordinary facility.
More stunning image galleries:
Birth of stars, life at sub-zero temperatures and micro-living in the city
Pollution from space, active volcanoes and a robot restaurant
Amazing Lego sculptures, freakish weather… and Big Bird
Gruesome tools, environmental disasters and intimate views from space.
Christmas treats and the end of the world
Bathing snow monkeys, a tweeting pope and elephant dung coffee.
Architectural giants and a new way of seeing the Moon
Red pandas, Saturn and Nature’s unstoppable forces
The world's largest bloom, the world's largest aquarium and the world's fastest sailing boat
Venice under water, a total eclipse and a pedestrian-avoiding car
Space shuttle, Baumgartner and Hurricane Sandy
The best of 2012 galleries:
A year in space
The year in technology
A year of discovery
People of the year
The year in weather
The year in wildlife
Weird and wonderful
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