Today in History – July 29, 1958 – NASA is established. Before the launch of Sputnik, the United States felt confident in its position on space technology. The modern liquid fueled rocket had been invented in America by Robert Goddard. In addition Wernher von Braun, the developer of the successful German V2 rocket was working for the US Army’s rocket program. The view in Washington was that the government should only develop purely military rockets and leave the rest to the private sector. Wernher von Braun was even discouraged from developing rockets that could carry satellites. That all changed when the Soviet Union launch Sputnik on October 4, 1957. The United States had clearly lost its edge in space technology and it was decided that a new federal agency should be established for non-military space programs.
On July 29, 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Eilene Galloway was instrumental in drafting the legislation and and making the case for its emphasis on international collaboration and peaceful exploration.
Many parts of the Naval Research Laboratory and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency were incorporated into NASA at its start, including the participation of Wernher von Braun. NASA quickly ramped up its human space flight program resulting in the launch of the first American in space on May 5, 1961, and the first American in orbit on February 20, 1962. One of NASA’s largest accomplishments was just seven years later with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. During this short amount of time NASA helped America regain its confidence as a leader in space flight.