Who Came Up With NASA?



In October of 1957 the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, setting into motion the events that led to the founding of the USA's own space agency.

Shortly after the launch President Dwight D. Eisenhower held a press conference in which he announced that the president of MIT, Dr. James R. Killian, Jr. was to become his Special Assistant for Science and Technology. This was the start of a move towards a civilian space agency, separate from previous military efforts.

In November Vice President Lyndon Johnson became involved in the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee hearings, organized to look into both missile and space issues. The organization of the US space exploration efforts became of special concern and discussions were brought under the umbrella of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). Among the new members of this committee were James Doolittle, chair of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) a civilian government organization created to oversee aviation research in 1916.

Dr. Killian expressed the concerns that he and many of his fellow scientists had with American space exploration remaining under military control. The fear was that this would taint all space research as militaristic. He recommended placing the responsibility under NACA and expanding their charter accordingly.

Meanwhile Congress was proposing several different plans favored by various members including a proposal to have the Atomic Energy Commission take charge of the space program. However the PSAC was increasingly leaning towards Dr. Killian's NACA plan. 

President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958 which declared that NACA would transform into NASA after no more than ninety days. The new agency began operating a short three months later after absorbing the 8000 employees and $100 million budget of its predecessor agency. By executive order the president transferred various other related assets adding several hundred additional employees and tripling its budget.

NACA had counted Langley, Ames, and the Lewis Flight Propulsion laboratories among its assets, plus two test facilities. NASA incorporated all of these resources into its management along with parts of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory.

Among its nontangible resources was the brainpower and technology acquired through Wernher von Braun, who had been head of the German rocket program during World War II before coming to the United States to work for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Later that same year, in December 1958 NASA also incorporated the Jet Propulsion Laboratory expanding its resources even further.

T. Keith Glennan former president of the Case Institute of Technology was to be the agency's first administrator.

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