The US space administrator NASA has celebrated 60 years of achievement and innovation that have developed as a beacon of humanity out of the fear and distrust of the Cold War.
The early days of NASA were not benign – then President Dwight Eisenhower was concerned that the Russians were winning the race to take over space and that if they reigned supreme in the skies, American security would be at risk.
He ordered the inauguration of NASA as a defence force to protect US interests in space.
The triggers were the successful launches of the first Sputnik satellites in 1957 and 1958. Later in 1958, Eisenhower started pouring cash into NASA.
The saving grace was scientists encouraged the White House to make NASA a civilian agency and to ensure the military had no say in command and control.
The prime directive was ‘he expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space’.
NASA has many highlights to be proud of.
- The first US space craft launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit in July 1958
- Project Mercury saw Alan Shepard was the first American in space aboard Freedom 7 in May 1961, a month after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight as the first man in space
- John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962 piloting Friendship 7
- Apollo 8 was the first manned spaceship to orbit the Moon in December 1968
- Apollo 11 landed the first men on the Moon in July 1969 – followed by five more manned lunar landings
Leader in space exploration
In subsequent years, NASA has led the way in space exploration with projects that have linked with Russia, the European Space Agency and other nations.
These have seen probes to across the solar system from Mercury to Pluto and Neptune.
Voyager 1 was the first man-made object to leave the solar system for interstellar space – the millions of miles that lie between other star systems and the Earth’s sun.
The probe was launched in 1977 and travelled the solar system before heading toward a distant star 17.6 light years from Earth, which the craft should reach in 40,000 years.