Creation of NASA Primary Source eText

Primary Source

Model of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1, on display at an exhibition in Prague, Czechoslovakia, three days after the launch of the original. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Model of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1, on display at an exhibition in Prague, Czechoslovakia, three days after the launch of the original. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

U.S. Objectives in Space Exploration
and Science


By: S. Everett Gleason

Date: March 7, 1958

Source: Gleason, S. Everett. Discussion, 357th Meeting of the National Security Council Concerning "U.S. Objectives in Space Exploration and Science." March 6, 1958. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: S. Everett Gleason served as deputy executive secretary of the National Security Council. Together with William L. Langer, Gleason wrote the book The Challenge of Isolation: The World Crisis of 1937–1940 and American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper Brothers, 1952).

National Aeronautics and Space Act
of 1958


By: U.S. Congress

Date: July 29, 1958

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Available online at; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).


The Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union impacted both nations militarily, culturally, economically, and, with the space race especially, scientifically. From the launch of Sputnik in 1957 until the successful Moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, the superpowers competed with one another for the supremacy of space.

With the threat of global nuclear warfare heightening yearly during the 1950s, the launch of Sputnik in October 1957 created hysteria for many Americans. Although the tiny craft orbited Earth for only two months, it made clear the Soviet Union's power in space. To many, the launch of Sputnik meant that the Soviet Union could just as easily send a barrage of atomic weapons toward the United States. In this context, the Eisenhower administration immediately sought to counter the Soviet Union and strengthen American resolve.

In a nationwide address on October 9, 1957, Eisenhower congratulated the Soviet Union for its success and comforted the American public by emphasizing that the United States' commitment to space exploration continued to develop with Project Vanguard. While he attempted to allay the fears of the American public, secret intelligence reports discussed in the days after the launching acknowledged that the Soviets were planning to launch either a satellite or an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Like many common Americans, government officials worried that the rocket thrust and precision necessary to launch Sputnik posed the very real problem of defense against a Soviet missile attack. These worries increased the following month when the Soviets launched another successful satellite, Sputnik II, which carried a dog, Laika, into orbit. While Sputnik weighed less than two hundred pounds, the hefty sequel weighed more than one thousand pounds. American scientists raced to counter these high-profile Soviet triumphs, and the United States sent its first orbiter into space in January 1958.


In a National Security Council (NSC) meeting in March 1958, presidential science advisor James R. Killian outlined the central motives behind American space exploration, which were a combination of "human curiosity," "military considerations," and "scientific observation and experiment."

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 reflected the duties set forth in the NSC March 1958 meeting, while emphasizing the civilian organization of the new space agency. Seeking to distinguish NASA from the Soviet space program, which operated under direct military oversight, the act presented again and again NASA's objectives as "peaceful." Although the minutes of the earlier NSC meeting stressed the military objectives girding space research, the act underlined NASA's status as a civilian-controlled agency, with specific guidelines for interaction between it and the armed services.

NASA started operations on October 1, 1958, and its fortunes grew as the space race escalated in the coming years. Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy (served 1961–1963), called for massive increases in expenditures for space exploration. The Soviet Union achieved another milestone when Yuri Gagarin successfully orbited Earth in April 1961. U.S. astronaut Alan B. Shepard reached space in May 1961, three weeks after Gagarin, but did not complete an orbit. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet in space flight in February 1962. The Apollo 11 mission to the Moon marked NASA's pinnacle achievement in July 1969. Despite a series of interplanetary research missions and numerous scientific innovations since the Moon landing, NASA's stature has diminished, in part, due to a détènte with the Soviet Union and the ultimate end of the Cold War. Throughout its history, NASA has maintained a tenuous existence, which

many attribute to its complex assortment of objectives framed by the Cold War. This conflict provided many of the core objectives behind the agency, and once the Cold War ended, so, too, did a great deal of support for space exploration.

Primary Source: U.S. Objectives in Space Exploration and Science

SYNOPSIS: On February 4, 1958, President Eisenhower requested that Killian research the best means of developing a national space program. Two days later, the U.S. Senate established a Special Committee on Space and Astronautics to form a permanent space agency. The 357th Meeting of the National Security Council occurred one month later, providing Killian the opportunity to present his analysis of American space objectives that would ultimately set many of the guidelines for the creation of a government agency devoted to space technology and exploration.

General Cutler introduced Dr. Killian, who stated initially that the reports to be given by himself, Dr. Purcell and Dr. York were in the nature of informal reports and would not contain specific recommendations. Next, Dr. Killian undertook to explain the main motives behind the development of space technology and space exploration. There he listed as, first, natural human curiosity about the nature of the universe; secondly, military considerations; third, U.S. prestige vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and other countries; and fourth, scientific observation and experiment. Space travel, thought Dr. Killian, may or may not have material and practical values, but the space programs that would be discussed at this time must, all of them, be based on the abovementioned four motivating factors.

Dr. Killian then indicated that various programs of differing size, shape and cost would be presented to the Council in order to provide the basis for a subsequent choice of a U.S. national outer space program. Dr. Killian, in this context, pointed out the need for a balanced outer space program—one which would take into due account the other great national security programs, inasmuch as any affective outer space program was bound to prove very costly.

Thereafter Dr. Killian called on Dr. Purcell, who discussed with the Council his views on space science and the objectives of space science. At the end of his discussion, these objectives were summarized on a chart which was divided into three time-periods: Early (first years), Later (two to five years), and Still Later (five to fifteen years). Dr. Purcell concluded his remarks with comments on the military application of space exploration. He listed on a chart (1) communications; (2) reconnaissance (optical, radio, infrared); (3) early warning; (4) meteorological.

At the conclusion of Dr. Purcell's remarks, the President inquired whether Dr. Purcell thought it would be a good idea if there could be more public education with respect to the matters in his report. The general view seemed to be in the affirmative.

The President then inquired of Dr. Purcell whether the distant planets of which he had spoken rotated on their own axis as did our earth. Dr. Purcell replied that most of them did, but that there were some we could hardly see and could not determine whether they rotated or not.

Dr. Killian next introduced Dr. York, who, he indicated, would discuss various illustrative space science programs designed to achieve the objectives of space science which had just been outlined by Dr. Purcell.

Dr. York spoke first, using a chart, of the vehicles which would be used in the exploration of outer space. The first usable vehicles would be the IRBMs—Jupiter and THOR—with added stages. Such vehicles would be available late in 1958 or early in 1959. They would eventually be able to carry a pay-load (instrumentation, etc.) weighting 500 pounds.

Later on in the process, Dr. York indicated that ICBM vehicles would become available for space exploration. Either TITAN or ATLAS could be used, perhaps in 1961, with a third stage added to them. The pay-load carried by these vehicles would be much larger than that which the IRBMs would carry. The pay-load for an earth satellite could be as large as 6500 pounds if fluorine were used for fueling, or 3800 pounds if the ICBM were fueled with liquid oxygen (lox). For a moon-hit or a Mars-hit, a pay-load of 2150 pounds with fluorine and 1000 pounds with lox could be carried.

Dr. York cautioned that even an ICBM vehicle was not sufficiently powerful to get a man to the moon. To do this we would have to construct a very large new rocket with a weight of 1.5 million pounds gross. He estimated the cost of developing such a new rocket as lying somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion.

After describing the various sample or illustrative space science and exploration programs, Dr. York turned to the subject of the approximate costs of such programs. The cost of any effective space exploration program would begin at $275 million a year, and would be likely to reach a cost of $650 million a year by 1965. Such figures, moreover, said Dr. York, were minimal.

Dr. York pointed out that a probing of the planet Mars, which might be achieved by the United States in 1962, would probably be the first achievement we could count on doing before the Russians, because they were so far ahead of us in big boosters.

The final section of Dr. York's report dealt with the possible effects to be achieved by exploiting very large megaton bombs at various heights above the earth's atmosphere. If sufficiently powerful, such explorations, he believed, could inhibit all space travel, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In bringing the report to a close, Dr. Killian, followed by Secretary Charles, stressed the security aspects of the information which had been provided for the Council, most particularly with respect to the final portion of Dr. York's presentation. Dr. Killian also indicated that time would not permit him to go on with a discussion of the organizational aspects of a U.S. program for space science and exploration. This subject would be discussed by Dr. Killian at a subsequent Council meeting.

The National Security Council:

  1. a. Noted and discussed a report by the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, assisted by Drs. Edward Purcell and Herbert York of the President's Science Advisory Committee, prepared pursuant to NSC Action No. 1859-b, on U.S. objectives in space exploration and science, and examples of possible programs designed to achieve these objectives.
  2. b. Noted that the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology would make a subsequent report to the Council on the organizational aspects involved in pursuing U.S. objectives in space exploration and science.

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

Primary Source: National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: On April 2, 1958, Eisenhower addressed Congress to urge passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act—a measure he signed on July 29. The sections of the act included here discuss the establishment of NASA, specifically its purposes and responsibilities concerning both scientific research and military preparedness. Less than one year after Sputnik, NASA began work in October 1958.

An Act to provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

Title I—Short Title, Declaration of Policy, and Definitions

Short Title

Sec. 101. This act may be cited as the "National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958."

Declaration of Policy and Purpose

  1. Sec. 102. (a) The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.
  2. (b) The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the United States require that adequate provision be made for aeronautical and space activities. The Congress further declares that such activities shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, a civilian agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities sponsored by the United States, except that activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense; and that determination as to which such agency has responsibility for and direction of any such activity shall be made by the President in conformity with section 201 (e).
  3. (c) The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:
    1. The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
    2. The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
    3. The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies and living organisms through space;
    4. The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.
    5. The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.
    6. The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defenses of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
    7. Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results, thereof; and
    8. The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment.…

Title II—Coordination of Aeronautical and Space Activities

National Aeronautics and Space Council

Sec. 201. (a) There is hereby established the National Aeronautics and Space Council (hereinafter called the "Council") which shall be composed of—

  1. the President (who shall preside over meetings of the Council);
  2. the Secretary of State;
  3. the Secretary of Defense
  4. the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration;
  5. the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission;
  6. not more than one additional member appointed by the President from the departments and agencies of the Federal Government; and
  7. not more than three other members appointed by the President, solely on the basis of established records of distinguished achievement from among individuals in private life who are eminent in science, engineering, technology, education, administration, or public affairs.…

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Sec. 202. (a) There is hereby established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (hereinafter called the "Administration"). The Administration shall be headed by an Administrator, who shall be appointed from civilian life by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and shall receive compensation at the rate of $22,500 per annum. Under the supervision and direction of the President, the Administrator shall be responsible for the exercise of all powers and the discharge of all duties of the Administration, and shall have authority and control over all personnel and activities, thereof.…

Functions of the Administration

Sec. 203. (a) The Administration, in order to carry out the purpose of this Act, shall—

  1. plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;
  2. arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through use of aeronautical and space vehicles, and conduct or arrange for the conduct of such measurements and observations; and
  3. provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.…

Civilian-Military Liaison Committee

Sec. 204 (a) There shall be a Civilian-Military Liaison Committee consisting of—

  1. a Chairman, who shall be the head thereof and who shall be appointed by the President, shall serve at the pleasure of the President, and shall receive compensation (in the manner provided in subsection (d)) at the rate of $20,000 per annum;
  2. one or more representatives from the Department of Defense, and one or more representatives from each of the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to be assigned by the Secretary of Defense to serve on the Committee without additional compensation; and
  3. representatives from the Administration, to be assigned by the Administrator to serve on the Committee without additional compensation, equal in number to the number of representatives assigned to serve on the Committee under paragraph (2).

(b) The Administration and the Department of Defense, through the Liaison Committee, shall advise and consult with each other on all matters within their respective jurisdictions relating to aeronautical and space activities and shall keep each other fully and currently informed with respect to such activities.

(c) If the Secretary of Defense concludes that any request, action, proposed action, or failure to act on the part of the Administrator is adverse to the responsibilities of the Department of Defense, or the Administrator concludes that any request, action, or proposed action, or failure to act on the part of the Department of Defense is adverse to the responsibilities of the Administration, and the Administrator and the Secretary of Defense are unable to reach an agreement with respect thereto, either the Administrator or the Secretary of Defense may refer the matter to the President for his decision (which shall be final) as provided in section 201 (e).…

International Cooperation

Sec. 205. The Administration, under the foreign policy guidance of the President, may engage in a program of international cooperation in work done pursuant to the Act, and in the peaceful application of the results thereof, pursuant to agreements made by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Further Resources


Divine, Robert A. The Sputnik Challenge. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Killian, James R., Jr. Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977.

McDougall, Walter A. The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. New York: Basic, 1985.


Gorn, Michael H. "Hugh L. Dryden's Career in Aviation and Space." Dryden Flight Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

"James Killian." History Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

"Sputnik and the Space Race." Dwight D. Eisenhower Library. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).