A 1952 version of “a typical liquid propellant rocket” diagrammed by NACA the predecessor of NASA. Credit: NASA
On March 3, 1915 the American government formed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The mission of the new agency was to undertake, promote and organize aeronautical research.
Hugh Dryden a NACA director established the Special Committee on Space Technology on November 21, 1957. The committee was ostensibly created to coordinate various branches of the government, universities and private companies to develop a space program.
Then came Sputnik and that changed everything. On January 14, 1958, Dryden published “A National Research Program for Space Technology,” which stated:
It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge (Sputnik) be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space….
It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency working in close cooperation with the applied research and development groups required for weapon systems development by the military. The pattern to be followed is that already developed by the NACA and the military services….
The NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology.
Shortly after the publication President Eisenhower established NASA with a civilian orientation to encourage peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958.
The NACA was dissolved and NASA because officially operational on October 1, 1958, 55 years ago today.
Happy Birthday NASA.
the NASA History Series has a wonderful and complete work telling the story by John Henry et. al. Orders of Magnitude: A History of the NACA and NASA, 1915-1990.