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On Oct. 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officially began operations. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act the previous July, creating NASA to lead America’s civilian space program in response to Soviet advances in space exploration. T. Keith Glennan and Hugh L. Dryden were sworn in as NASA’s first administrator and deputy administrator, respectively. As its core, the new agency incorporated the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), founded in 1915 to advance aeronautics research in the United States. The NACA elements included three large research laboratories and two small test facilities. Projects and facilities transferred from other agencies to augment NASA’s capabilities. Within days of opening, NASA began work on America’s first human spaceflight program.
Left: NASA Deputy Administrator Hugh L. Dryden, left, introduces NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan as he prepares to deliver a filmed address to NACA employees about the impending transition to NASA. Middle: The Dolley Madison House on LaFayette Square in Washington, D.C., NASA’s first headquarters building. Right: The main entrance to the Dolley Madison House.
In a filmed address delivered to all NACA employees shortly before the transition, Glennan explained that the change to the new organization should not affect their daily lives, even though the new agency would over time take on more responsibilities. Indeed, the transition for the existing 8,000 NACA employees proved rather seamless. They went home on Sept. 30 as NACA employees and reported for work on Oct. 1 as NASA employees, without change to their daily routines. On Oct. 1, Glennan addressed the 170-member headquarters staff in the courtyard of the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., that served as NASA’s first headquarters.
Left: The logo for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) on the wall of the 8-foot transonic pressure wind tunnel at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, now NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Right: The entrance sign to the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, now NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
Left: The entrance sign to NACA’s Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. Right: The entrance sign to the renamed NASA Lewis Research Center, now NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Left: The NACA High Speed Flight Station, now NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Right: Workers removing the NACA logo at the High Speed Flight Station.
Three NACA research laboratories – Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia; Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in Mountain View, California; and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio – and two small test facilities – the Muroc Dry Lake in California’s high desert for high-speed flight research, and one for sounding rockets at Wallops Island in Virginia – transferred to NASA on Oct. 1, with a total of 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $100 million. By Dec. 31, 1958, NASA had absorbed elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., including its Project Vanguard, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. These added 420 employees and 2,300 contractors to the workforce and brought the agency’s appropriations to more than $330 million. It also acquired a high-priority rocket engine development project from the U.S. Air Force. Over time, the Agency established or incorporated additional centers and facilities to meet the growing needs of the nation’s space program. Today, 10 field centers across the nation work together to accomplish NASA’s varied missions.
Left: The headquarters building for the Space Task Group at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Middle: An early cutaway representation of a Mercury capsule. Right: An early representation of rocket engines for human spaceflight, including the F-1 at right.
President Eisenhower gave NASA overall responsibility for developing America’s human spaceflight program. The new agency inherited two large top priority projects in this arena. The first involved developing a spacecraft capable of carrying a single human into space and returning him safely to Earth. Engineers at Langley had conducted studies in this area since 1952, and on Oct. 8, 1958, Glennan gave the formal approval for the formation of a team at Langley to develop this capability. On Nov. 5, the Space Task Group (STG) formally came into existence, with Robert R. Gilruth named as project manager and Charles J. Donlan as his assistant. Thanks to their previous work, the STG released the specifications for the crewed capsule on Nov. 14, mailing them three days later to 20 prospective companies that had expressed an interest in bidding on the project that NASA formally named Project Mercury on Nov. 26. On Jan. 9, 1959, NASA selected the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis to develop the spacecraft. The second major high-priority project involved the development of a 1.5-million-pound thrust rocket engine to power a future large space booster. The new agency inherited studies conducted by the U.S. Air Force, and by mid-December, NASA selected the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation to develop the F-1 engine that later powered the Saturn V moon rocket.
Left: Pioneer 1 shortly before its launch on a Thor-Able rocket. Middle: Replica of Pioneer 1 on display at the Smithsonian Institute’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Image credit: courtesy National Air and Space Museum. Right: Engineers inspect Pioneer 3 before launch. The nearly identical Pioneer 4 became the first American spacecraft to reach solar orbit.
The new agency inherited satellite programs from other agencies. The first of these, part of a program of lunar orbiters inherited from the U.S. Air Force, launched on Oct. 11, 1958, under the auspices of NASA although the Air Force conducted the operations. Pioneer 1 blasted off aboard a Thor-Able rocket from a fledgling launch facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Although it did not achieve its intended mission to orbit the Moon due to a rocket malfunction, Pioneer 1 did reach a then record altitude of about 70,000 miles. The probe returned scientific data confirming the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts until it burned up on reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere 43 hours after launch. Two other Pioneers met similar fates in November and December. Pioneer 4, although it missed the Moon, became the first American spacecraft to enter solar orbit in March 1959. In the subsequent decades, NASA launched spacecraft to unlock the mysteries of the universe, dispatched probes to make close up observations of every planet in the solar system, sent men on voyages to the Moon, built a space station to maintain a permanent human presence in space, and today is preparing to return astronauts to the Moon.
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created on October 1, 1958, to perform civilian research related to space flight and aeronautics. President Eisenhower commissioned Dr. T. Keith Glennan, right, as the first administrator for NASA and Dr. Hugh L. Dryden as deputy administrator.NASA On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act “to provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere.” At the White House less than a month later, Eisenhower commissioned Dr. T. Keith Glennan, right, as the first administrator for NASA and Dr. Hugh L. Dryden as deputy administrator.
NASA officially opened for business 65 years ago on Oct. 1, 1958, to oversee the United States’ nonmilitary space activities. It was based on its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was established in 1915 to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution.”
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NASA Citizen Scientist Wins Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
NASA volunteer Dan Caselden, visiting NASA headquarters. Image credit: Dan Caselden The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), established in 1889, is a nonprofit organization that uses astronomy to increase the understanding and appreciation of science and to advance science and science literacy. This year, the ASP awarded the 2023 Gordon Myers Amateur Achievement Award to NASA Volunteer Dan Caselden for “reshaping the understanding of what is possible in volunteer-research”.
A Principal Software Engineer at Netskope by trade, Caselden began his citizen science journey when NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project caught his eye on Reddit. Together with fellow data scientist, Paul Westin, Caselden created a new, efficient visualization tool, called WiseView, to improve the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 search. Caselden’s work on WiseView—and his subsequent work applying machine learning to search for Jupiter-like objects called brown dwarfs—has led him to co-author 19 scientific publications so far with multiple research teams.
Caselden will be honored at at an in-person ASP Awards Gala on Saturday, November 11, 2023 at the Grand Bay Hotel San Francisco in Redwood City, California.
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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this majestic image of the Earth at night highlighting the green and red hues of an Aurora. NASA NASA is asking American companies to provide input on the agency’s requirements for end-to-end services as part of the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program.
In the future, the agency plans to transition its operations in low Earth orbit to commercially owned and operated destinations to ensure continued access and presence in space for research, technology development, and international collaboration after the planned retirement of the International Space Station.
Through a request for information (RFI), NASA is seeking feedback from industry as the agency refines its anticipated requirements for new commercial space destinations. The requirements will help industry understand NASA’s human-rating standards that will be used by the agency to certify that the new systems meet NASA expectations for low Earth orbit operations and transportation. An industry briefing day is scheduled to take place Tuesday Oct. 12, with responses to the RFI due Wednesday, Nov. 17.
“This RFI is a significant next step in transitioning low Earth orbit operations to the private sector, allowing NASA to be one of many customers for services” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “These requirements will be the foundation upon which the companies can design safe systems. But the requirements have to work for companies as well. Thus, we are seeking industry feedback on these draft requirements to ensure that the Commercial LEO destinations will be safe, reliable, and cost effective.”
The agency is currently supporting the development of several new stations and destination concepts through both funded and unfunded agreements. However, a company does not need to have a current agreement with NASA in order to provide feedback via the RFI or to bid on future procurements to provide low Earth orbit services to the agency.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of innovation and effort from industry thus far in developing their station designs,” says Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We are working in lockstep with multiple companies to help guide them in a way that sets them up for success to meet our requirements. However, it’s crucial that we open feedback to as wide of an audience as possible. The more commercial stations that are successfully operating in low Earth orbit, the greater likelihood that we can continue to drive down costs and encourage innovation in this new commercial space industry.”
NASA previously sought industry input in 2022 and early 2023, and has hosted two industry days on the agency’s assumptions and expectations for crew and technical requirements to guide companies’ technical and business plans. The feedback from industry will continue to inform the agency’s future commercial services strategy for low Earth orbit destinations.
NASA’s goal is to enable a strong commercial marketplace in low Earth orbit where NASA is one of many customers for private industry. This strategy will provide services the government needs safely, at a lower cost, and enables the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars, while continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
Information about how to attend the industry briefing day is contained in the RFI on SAM.gov. The dates for industry day and responses due are subject to change pending a government shutdown resolution and will be updated on SAM.gov when available. For more information about NASA’s commercial space strategy, visit:
By Rebecca Turkington
Johnson Space Center, Houston
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The NASA Space Tech Catalyst Prize will recognize U.S. individuals and/or organizations that share effective best practices for how they support underrepresented and diverse space technology innovators, researchers, technologists, and entrepreneurs. The prize competition’s primary goals are: (1) Showcase effective strategies and approaches for developing the capacity and skill sets of these groups, enhancing their ability to succeed, (2) Expand the outreach and engagement efforts of the NASA ESIP portfolio, ensuring a diverse and inclusive pool of applicants for future funding opportunities, and (3) Recognize the efforts of those who support and nurture underrepresented and diverse individuals and organizations in the space technology sector.
Award: $500,000 in total prizes
Open Date: September 29, 2023
Close Date: February 22, 2024
For more information, visit: https://www.spacetechcatalystprize.org/
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