July 29th marked the 60th “birthday” for NASA. On July 29th, 1958, President Eisenhower officially made some tweaks to an organization called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was born.
That period in our country’s history was rich with competition against the Soviet Union when it came to the race for space. When the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4th, 1957 it was enough to kick the American space program into high gear and less than a year later we got NASA.
The early days of NASA were marked with more failures than successes, it seemed. Countless rockets exploded shortly after takeoff but the newly established space administration started to get a lot of support and soon NASA was growing at an impressive rate in terms of the knowledge and technology needed to successfully explore beyond our planet.
Just a year after its creation, NASA began the historic Mercury program and in May 1961 we’d successfully sent the first American, Alan Shepard, into space on a suborbital flight. Less than a year later NASA raised the bar by sending John Glenn around the world in orbit.
In 1963, NASA launched the Gemini program, which ultimately led to the Apollo missions and what many Americans feel is NASA’s crowning achievement—putting humans on the moon in July of 1969.
Add to that early history multiple joint-missions with the Soviets, the long-standing shuttle program, and research conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and NASA has accomplished quite a bit in just 60 short years.
On September 12th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a packed football stadium regarding the tall order he’d given NASA:
“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
NASA met the challenge and so many more in the fifty years that followed—who knows what it will accomplish next?
Happy 60th NASA!