On This Day: President Dwight D. Eisenhower Signs Bill to Create NASA in 1958

by Joe Rutland

A boost for America’s part in the “space race” happened on this day in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill creating NASA.

NASA, known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, would be responsible for overseeing numerous Apollo trips to the moon. It also oversees Space Shuttle missions, too.

When Eisenhower signed the bill, according to the Eisenhower Library, it took in the previously established National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). That was formed in 1915 to “undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research.” NACA was dissolved on Oct. 1, 1958, placing its parts within NASA.

NASA Formed, Helped in ‘Further Equipping the United States for the Space Age’

“I have today signed H.R. 12575, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958,” Eisenhower said in a release from his press secretary. “The enactment of this legislation is an historic step, further equipping the United States for the space age. I wish to commend the Congress for the promptness with which it has created the organization and provided the authority needed for an effective national effort in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.”

At this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were both involved in a race to dominate the “space age.”

Men like John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, and Alan Bean were among the early NASA astronauts. Americans became acquainted with them all through their work. Armstrong will be remembered as the first man on the moon, saying, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Space Agency Has Suffered Major Tragedies On Ground, In Air

Sadly, there have been some NASA astronauts who died while on duty. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died on Jan. 27, 1967. That’s when the Apollo Command Module caught fire during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Obviously, the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia disasters led to astronauts perishing on duty, too.

On a lighter note, NASA played an important role in keeping America within the discussion of space. Also, NASA received additional awareness through the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie.

You may recall the show’s plot was around NASA astronaut Major Anthony Nelson [Larry Hagman]. He found Jeannie’s bottle washed up on a beach. When he rubbed the bottle, out came Jeannie [Barbara Eden]. The sitcom was a way to keep NASA’s name and mission in the spotlight, albeit through a television situation comedy.

The work of NASA continues even today as astronauts take part in the International Space Station. Obviously, they are involved in events like having the Mars Exploration Rovers in action.

NASA continues to help the United States and the world discover new areas in the Universe. Its work has helped people see different parts of the galaxy through the Hubble Space Telescope.