President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Dr. Keith Glennan. April 1960. Credit: NASA
On this day in 1958, the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating America’s activities in space. NASA has since landed men on the Moon, created the first reusable spacecraft and sponsored space expeditions, both manned and unmanned, that have yielded vital information about the solar system and universe. It has also launched numerous earth-orbiting satellites that have been instrumental in everything from weather forecasting to navigation and global communications.
The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Credit: NASA
NASA was created in response to the Soviet Union’s October 4, 1957 launch of its first satellite, Sputnik I. The 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite orbited the Earth in 98 minutes. The Sputnik launch caught Americans by surprise and sparked fears that the Soviets might also be capable of launching missiles with nuclear weapons to America. The United States priding itself on being at the forefront of technology, immediately began developing a response, signaling the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race.
On November 3, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik II,which carried a dog named Laika into space. In December 1957, the United States attempted to launch a satellite of its own, called Vanguard, but it exploded shortly after takeoff. On January 31, 1958, things went better with Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite to successfully orbit the earth.
Original sketches for the NASA seal designed by James Modarelli. Credit: NASA
Official NASA seal designed by James Modarelli. Credit: NASA
Dr. Keith Glennan would become NASA's first administrator. He would inherit over 8,000 employees from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA.) NASA also took over NACA's three research laboratories; Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. It had an annual budget of $100 million, which equates to approximately $750 million in todays dollars.
NACA came into being, much like NASA, in response to the success of others. Even though the Wright brothers had been the first to make a powered airplane flight in 1903, by the beginning of World War I in 1914, the United States lagged behind Europe in airplane technology and in order to catch up, Congress founded NACA on March 3, 1915.