#OnThisDay: NASA Turns Sixty!

Astronauts are briefed on the first Gemini Spacecraft by Guenter Wendt, Design Engineer for McDonnell Aircraft Corp., in the Whiteroom at Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy, Fla." From left; Gus Grissom, Guenter Wendt, L. Gordon Cooper, Neil Armstrong.

Astronauts are briefed on the first Gemini Spacecraft by Guenter Wendt, Design Engineer for McDonnell Aircraft Corp., in the Whiteroom at Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy, Fla.” Left to Right: Gus Grissom, Guenter Wendt, L. Gordon Cooper, Neil Armstrong, 1964. Source: Lee William Jones collection (MSS 244-0033).

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

On this day in 1958, NASA was born! This organization has a special place in United States history. As an elementary student, I remember on “Grandparents’ Day”, there were a set of questions asked and a couple of questions dealt with the first moon landing, Apollo 13, Challenger explosion, and so on. The creation of NASA was monumental and it still captures our imagination today.

Picture it: October 1957. The world is stunned as the launching of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit by the Soviet Union (History.com Staff, 2009). This was in the midst of the Cold War between the world’s two superpowers and the United States views this as a loss. By this time, the United States realized they needed to catch up. In November 1957, Senator Lyndon Johnson created studies on space in the Senate Armed Services Committee: through the committee, they were “… establishing a space agency” (Dick, 2008). Finally, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 28, 1958 (Dick, 2008).

Gemini 10 Astronauts (L-R) John W. Young, command pilot, and Michael Collins, pilot, are in the Gemini 10 spacecraft during the Simultaneous Launch Demonstration at the White Room Level at Complex 19, Cape Kennedy, Fla., in preparation for [NASA's] Gemini 10 mission. The primary mission objective is successful rendezvous and docking of the Gemini 10 spacecraft with the Agena 10 target vehicle.

Gemini 10 Astronauts (L-R) John W. Young, command pilot, and Michael Collins, pilot, are in the Gemini 10 spacecraft during the Simultaneous Launch Demonstration in Cape Kennedy, Fla., 1966. Source: Lee William Jones collection (MSS 244-0146).

Under NASA, they had four mission areas: aeronautics research, science, space technology, and human exploration (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). During the 1960’s, space expedition was all of the rage with one goal: put a man on the moon! It finally happened on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module, Eagle (History.com Staff, 2009).

After the moon landing, NASA continued space missions. Later missions were unmanned such as Viking, Mariner, Voyager, and Galileo: they explored various parts of the solar system (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). In a shocking turn of events, the United States and the Soviet Union created the first human spaceflight, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, in 1975; moreover, the United States started the International Space Station, in 1984 and 1993, other nations joined in the partnership (Redd, 2017).

Sadly, there were two major disasters: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. In both cases, none of the astronauts survived. Challenger exploded after seventy-three seconds after liftoff: the cause of the explosion was due to a structural malfunction (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017). Seventeen years later, upon reentry to Earth, a structural malfunction led to the Columbia shuttle’s demise (Dooling, 2017). Missions continues from NASA such as Curiosity (2011), Opportunity (2003), Hubble Space Telescope (1990), OSISIS-REx (2016), just to name a few (NASA, 2018).

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Here at the University Archives and Special Collections, we are honored to have photographers from the Lee William Jones, a former NASA photographer. His photographs are available on our online digital gallery.

References

Dick, S. J. (2008, March 28). The birth of NASA. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/whyweexplore/Why_We_29.html

Dooling, D. (2017, December 17). Columbia disaster. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Columbia-disaster

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2017, October 23). Challenger disaster. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Challenger-disaster

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2018, February 7). National aeronautics and space administration. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/NASA

History.com Staff (2009). NASA established. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nasa-established

NASA (2018). Missions. Retrieved from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/overview/?page=0&per_page=40&order=launch_date+desc%2Ctitle+asc&search=&category=33

Redd, N. T. (2017, November 7). NASA: 60 years of space exploration. Retrieved from https://www.space.com/38700-nasa-history.html

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