This monograph relates for a general audience the origins of the space age, the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the first tentative steps toward an operational capability to undertake space exploration. To a very real extent, NASA emerged in 1958 out of the "cold war" rivalries of the United States and the Soviet Union, which were engaged in a broad battle over the ideologies and allegiances of the nonaligned nations of the world. Space exploration was one major area contested. The Soviets gained the upper hand in this competition on October 4, 1957, when they launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, as part of a larger scientific effort associated with the International Geophysical Year.
NASA began to conduct space missions within months of its creation, especially Project Mercury to ascertain the possibilities of human spaceflight. Even so, these activities were constrained by a modest budget and a measured pace on the part of NASA leadership. That changed rather suddenly on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy, responding to perceived challenges to U.S. leadership in science and technology, announced a lunar landing effort that would place an American on the Moon before the end of the decade.
This monograph relates the story of those early years and reprints facsimile copies of key documents. At the time of the NASA's fortieth anniversary, it seems fitting to revisit its origins and to reflect on its accomplishments since.
Table of Contents:
Sputnik Night: October 4–5, 1957
Korolev and Freedom of Space: February 14, 1955–October 4, 1957
One Small Ball in the Air: October 4, 1957–November 3, 1957
The Birth of NASA: November 3, 1957–October 1, 1958
Denouement—NASA's First Eighteen Months: October 1, 1958–December 20, 1960