NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was established during the United States’ space race with the Soviet Union. When the Soviets launched Sputnik 7, the first artificial satellite, into space in 1957, America realized that it needed to focus more on space exploration. Thus, a special committee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was created. This committee, the Special Committee on Space Technology, worked to develop a space program for the United States. This committee was also known as the Stever Committee, named after its chairman Guyford Stever. NACA was not the only organization working on creating a space program. Both a Senate committee and the military were trying to create proposals for America’s space program. They eventually decided that the new organization should be very similar to NACA.
While NACA was working on creating a space program it launched America’ first satellite into space. The satellite was launched in 1958, just months before NASA was formed. On July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which allowed for the creation of NASA, was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Eisenhower. On October 1, 1958, the agency became operational. When NASA was formed, it absorbed NACA in its entirety. It not only kept the older agency’s employees, but it also started using NACA’s existing laboratories. Although NASA has laboratories and other facilities around the country, the agency’s headquarters are in Washington D.C. NASA also took over many of the research projects that ARPA had been doing with space, as well as some of the work the Air Force had done.
NASA is a nonmilitary agency, so soon after it was formed the Army, Navy, and Air Force were all fighting to be in charge of a manned space program. It was not until a while later that it was decided NASA would also be the one to run America’s manned space program. In addition to the space program, NASA is also in charge of long term aerospace research for the government.
Throughout the years, NASA has launched many programs and been responsible for breakthroughs in research in a number of fields. They launched the Apollo program which brought the first people to the surface of the Moon, and they are also building the International Space Station in cooperation with a number of other nations. NASA’s other accomplishments include launching thousands of satellites and launching the Hubble Telescope. In 2008, NASA celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Astronomy Cast has an episode on the US Space Shuttle.