This Day In History: NASA Is Created In 1958

Fifty-eight years ago today, legislation was passed in Congress that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was established as a way for the United States to compete with the Soviet Union for mastery of outer space. Just about 10 months prior to NASA opening its doors for the first time, the Soviet Union won the first space race battle when Sputnik was successfully launched on October 4, 1957.

Sputnik was a satellite that weighed in at 83 kilograms. It was able to circumnavigate the Earth in only 98 minutes. Along with the world, the United States was shocked when news of the Soviet launch was heard around the world. The two countries were gripped in a cold war, in which many people thought that the end of the war would come with the use of nuclear weapons.

The Soviet space launch only made the fears of a full-scale war seem more plausible due to the fact that the Soviet Union proved that it had the rocket-powered technology to break free of Earth’s gravitational pull. The space race was officially underway, and the United States was going to have to play catch up.

For more than a century, the United States has been unused to not being the country at the head of the line when it comes to research and development of technology. While the United States was attempting to put a satellite in space, the Soviet Union was working on Sputnik II, which would put the first living thing in space.

The Soviets succeeded on November 3, 1957, when Sputnik II entered Earth’s orbit. Onboard Sputnik II, a dog named Laika was the first living animal to leave the planet. A few weeks later, the United States made its first attempt to place a satellite into space with the satellite named Vanguard. It exploded shortly after takeoff. So far, the Soviet Union had two successful space missions, and the United States did not have any.

Instead of giving up and conceding defeat in space to the Soviet Union, the United States made a second attempt at launching a satellite. This time, Explorer I was successfully launched and placed into Earth’s orbit on January 31, 1958. On July 29, 1958, Congress decided that in order to compete with the Soviet Union, an organization needed to be established that only focused on winning the space race. This organization was named NASA. Under the order of President John F. Kennedy, NASA had their first presidential directive. Kennedy wanted NASA to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”

Putting a man on the moon was thought to be impossible. The amount of technology that was going to be needed would all have to be invented. Today, there is more computer power in our phones and tablets than NASA had access to during the Apollo moon mission.

Even though Kennedy did not live to see his dream come true, NASA put a man on the moon on July 20, 1969. This accomplishment by NASA won the space race for the United States.

As we prepare to enter the 2020s, NASA is focusing its mission on searching for planets in the universe that are able to support life. NASA has also put robots on Mars and is trying to determine if life once existed there or if the planet can sustain life in the form of a human colony in the future.

What do you think the mission of NASA will be in 50 years?

[Image Via AP Photo/John Raoux]