Congress passed the National Space Grant Act in 1988. The purpose of the act was to establish a National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (NSGC&FP). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accepted the Congressional mandate to manage the program, and the original competition for Space Grant awards was announced in 1989. Soon afterward, 21 independent Space Grant consortia began operation. Three years later the number of consortia stabilized at 52.
The consortia administer programs in three areas of university and NASA concern: research, education, and public service. The number of affiliated Space Grant institutions has grown from less than 100 in 1990 to over 830 in 2002. The Space Grant program benefits from the enthusiastic support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers from among the 52 consortia. The grassroots design has fostered the formation of diverse partnerships and networks that provide for collaboration on a wide range of research and educational endeavors.