On July 29th, 1958, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act and established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Though the United States and its allies had been heavily invested in missile and satellite technology following the conclusion of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, the “space race” truly began with the Soviet’s successful launch of Sputnik on October 4th, 1957.
Within the U.S. government a parallel race began, to determine which institution would be responsible for the space program. Both Senate and House committees were established in 1958 to pursue the question.
On April 2nd, Eishenhower sent draft legislation to Congress to establish the “National Aeronautics and Space Agency,” which on the advice of Eilene Galloway, an employee of the Congressional Research Service and a consultant to both the Senate and House during the creation of the Space Act, was changed to the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” An “administration,” she determined, would be more capable at coordinating efforts across multiple agencies.
Since its establishment, NASA has been a leading source of space exploration, travel and innovation. It sent the first US satellite, Explorer One, into orbit just three months after Sputnik. In 1961 it launched Freedom 7, making Alan Shepard the first American to orbit earth. Responsible for the Apollo program, NASA sent the first humans to the moon in 1969, and did so five additional times through 1972. In 1990, it launched the Hubble space telescope, giving humans a previously unprecedented understanding of the universe. From 1996 to 1997, NASA launched the first successful unmanned rover to land on Mars. And in 1998 in partnership with a number of other national space agencies, it launched the International Space Station, which continues to be the longest low-orbit human presence in space.