Peter Takes on History
August 29. 1958
NASA Enters The Race
On this day in 1958, congress passed and the same day Dwight D Eisenhower signed legislation to create this government agency. Today the agency has more than 17 thousand employees and runs 16 facilities in the US as well as one in Australia and another in Spain. The facility in Florida is large enough to have its own area code - 321. Say it slow and dramatic, like 3-2-1. Yep, NASA.
NASA was created in a panic ignited by what Soviet accomplishment? Sputnik 1. Yep, October 4, 1957 the Soviets stunned America. Coming out of WWII, in the A-Bomb age - we considered ourselves the tech top dogs. So, OK, if the Russians want a space race ...
But one month later, before we could get our sneakers laced up, the Soviets lapped us by launching Sputnik II and putting a dog named Laika into orbit! We finally stumbled to the starting line in December of ‘57 for our first launch. Our Vanguard rocket lifted four feet off the pad and exploded. It wasn’t looking like much of a race!
Six months later, in July of 1958, Congress established NASA and we got out of the blocks. Still, Russia had a pretty good lead and lapped us again by putting the first man in space in April, 1961. Can anyone name that first soviet cosmonaut? 26 year old Yuri Gagarin.
Can anyone name the first American in space. Alan Shepard . That’s right. Just three weeks after Gagarin orbited, Shepard spent 15 minutes, 22 seconds on the edge of space and NASA had its first success.
Six weeks later, on May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared that America should put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and we did. On July 20, 1969, as commander of NASA’s Apollo 11, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. Russia, after a series of devastating setbacks, never did land a man on the moon.
While we all recall NASA failures: The Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia accident in 2003, NASA has been triumphant far more often. NASA has staged more than 1000 successful unmanned missions and 200 successful manned missions. Our space program has been a source of national pride and unity and our space exploration has provided us with fantastic images and an astronomical amount of data! Then there’s all the NASA inspired technology! Baby formula, freeze drying, the computer mouse, scratch resistant lenses, water filtration, memory foam, the Dustbuster, Tang!
OK, a couple of final quiz questions:
Niel Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon and we all remember his “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Does anyone remember the second person on the moon? (Let that be a lesson to you.) Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong’s crewmate on Apollo 11, was the second man.
How about the third guy on the moon? That was "Pete" Conrad. Anyone recall his first words on the surface of the planet? Conrad said, “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil but it’s a long one for me!” We learned later that he made that ... more casual statement ... to prove to a friend back on earth that NASA doesn’t stage the astronaut’s quotes.