#TBT: How NASA Came To Be
By Alyssa Berg
Throughout the historical narrative of the United States Congress, many circumstances have inspired moments of bipartisanship. Legislators have reached across the aisle in order to solve problems like Social Security reform, nutrition access, and civil rights injustice, but one of the most unique moments of bipartisanship in American history had lawmakers looking to the heavens for inspiration.
On October 4th, 1957, millions of Americans watched in awe as a small polished metal sphere no larger than 58 centimeters in diameter soared through the night sky, broadcasting back a signal of tiny “beeps” from space over the speakers of Earth-bound radios across the nation. Sputnik became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, sparking what would come to be known as the “Space Race” between its Russian creators and American scientists each looking to claim this new intergalactic frontier in the larger context of the Cold War.
It became clear that the United States would need an organizational entity to oversee its efforts to compete with Russian cosmonauts, but the creation of such a body raised many questions; would a new federal agency be created for the purpose or should foundations be sought from existing institutions like the National Science Foundation, or would space development fall under the jurisdiction of the military? The Space Age was in full swing, and the United States government saw compelling motivation for involvement with issues of national security, global leadership, and technological innovation at stake.
So, less than two months after Sputnik made its first laps around the Earth, then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, called to action the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the development of an American space program. From these talks, the Senate Special Committee on Space was established, while House Majority Leader John W. McCormack, also a Democrat, chaired the newly minted House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. Together with Republican President Eisenhower’s Science Advisory Committee, legislators on both sides of the aisle collaborated to address America’s place amongst the stars.
On July 29th, 1958, bipartisan cooperation in Congressional hearings yielded the National Aeronautics and Space Act which, upon its signature into law by President Eisenhower, created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Eleven years later, the United States became the first nation to put a man on the Moon, making July of this year the 45th anniversary of America’s lunar victory.
Pictures and content courtesy of the Bipartisan Policy Center