Tech Throwback: NASA Is Founded On 29th July 1958 Amidst The Sputnik Crisis
On 29th July 1958, the United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA. However, forming NASA was as a result of something now known as the Sputnik crisis.
The crisis was named after a Soviet Union satellite, Sputnik 1, that was launched on 4th October 1957. It was the first-ever artificial satellite that was launched into space and it got the Western nations scared.
This was because at that time, the US and the Soviet Union were the two world superpowers and they were opposites. While the US was alleged to have nuclear superiority, both world leaders were engaged in a race for superiority in other technology aspects.
Thus, launching the Sputnik 1 meant that the Soviets were winning the space race. There was also fear that the satellite could be weaponised and used against the US and its allies.
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But, President Eisenhower, addressing the public five days after Sputnik 1 launch, said it was not a weapon. “Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that it was evidence of the Soviet Union’s superiority in outer space. The US began frantically funding research in space defense and education.
At the time, there was already the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). This body had been in charge of rocket experiments and was also working on launching a satellite as well. But, Sputnik 1’s launch brought renewed interest to NACA.
First, the NACA formed a Special Committee on Space Technology. Then, the US formed created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This agency was to develop space technology that had military applications, it would later be renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Finally, on 29th July 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in response to the Sputnik crisis. It retained the 8,000 employees of the NACA as well as its research laboratories and test facilities. NASA also took in some parts of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory.
NASA officially opened for business on 1st October 1958 and launched its first satellite, Pioneer 1, into outer space on 11th October 1958.
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