On this day in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs an act that creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He called the signing an [sic] historic step, further equipping the United States for leadership in the space age.
Since the end of World War II, the United States had worked to make breakthroughs in rocket science. This particular legislation expanded the original National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into NASA. NASA research, which was generously funded by Eisenhower’s successors, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, was responsible for successful and groundbreaking American achievements such as the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969 and the development of the space shuttle, first launched in 1981. More recently, NASA has sent robotic exploratory missions to Mars and launched a spacecraft to view Pluto. NASA’s research has also contributed to advances in consumer-oriented goods such as telecommunications satellites and computer technology.
Although NASA currently engages in cooperative projects with other nations, Eisenhower at the time had to add a cautionary note when signing the legislation that created the new agency. He warned that NASA’s research into peaceful projects could be shared only when international treaties outlining such projects were authorized first by the president and the U.S. Senate. Ike, the former Army general who oversaw the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, wanted to ensure that NASA would not share information that was vital to national security.