HAPPY BIRTHDAY NASA

October 17, 2018


Some information for this post is taken from NASA Tech Briefs, Vol 42, No.10

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite.  I remember the announcement just as though it was yesterday.  Walter Cronkite announced the “event” on the CBS evening news.  That single event was a game-changer and sent the United States into action. That’s when we realized we were definitely behind the curve.  The launch provided the impetus for increased spending for aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of a new federal agency to manage air and space research and development. The United States and Russia were engaged in a Cold War, and during this period of time, space exploration emerged as a major area of concern.  In short, they beat us to the punch and caught us with our pants down.

As a result, President Dwight David Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA.  NASA opened for business on October 1, 1958, with T. Keith Glenman, president of the Case Institute of Technology, as its first administrator.  NASA’s primary goal was to “provide research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and other purposes. “(Not too sure the “other purposes” was fully explained but that’s no real problem.  The “spooks” had input into the overall mission of NASA due to the Cold War.)

NASA absorbed NACA (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics) including three major research laboratories: 1.) Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, 2.) Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and 3.) the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory.  There were two smaller laboratories included with the new Federal branch also.  NASA quickly incorporated other organizations into its new agency, notably the space science group of the Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by Caltech for the Army and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. As you recall, Dr. Werner von Braun’s team of engineers were at that time engaged in the development of very large rockets.

The very first launch for NASA was from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  It was the Pioneer I, which launched on October 11, 1958. In May of 1959, Pioneer 4 was launched to the Moon, successfully making the first U.S. lunar flyby.

NASA’s first high-profile program involving human spaceflight was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive the rigors of spaceflight.  On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space.  He rode his Mercury capsule on a fifteen (15) minute suborbital mission.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending astronauts to the moon and back before the end of the decade.  To facilitate this goal, NASA expanded the existing manned spaceflight program in December 1961 to include the development of a two-man spacecraft. The program was officially designated Gemini and represented a necessary intermediate step in sending men to the moon on what became known as the Apollo Missions.  I had the great pleasure of being in the Air Force at that period of history and worked on the Titan II Missile.  The Titan II shot the Mercury astronauts into orbit.  Every launch was a specular success for our team at the Ogden Air Material Area located at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.  The missile has since been made obsolete by other larger and more powerful rockets but it was the “ride” back in those days.

One thing I greatly regret is the cessation of maned-flight by our government.  All of the efforts expended during the days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo have not been totally lost but we definitely have relinquished our dominance in manned space travel.  Once again, you can thank your “local politicians” for that great lack of vision.

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