Birth of NASA

Even before the contour couch was demonstrated, the Air Force research and development planners also had about accepted the bare Atlas as a manned satellite booster, although they retained serious misgivings regarding abort and reentry g loads, orbital altitude, lifting ability, and reliability. But by early July 1958, there actually seemed to be an inverse relationship between the Air Force's progress on Man-in-Space-Soonest and the progress of the space bill through Congress. On July 10, Brigadier General Homer A. Boushey of Headquarters USAF informed the Air Research and Development Command that the Bureau of the Budget was firmly in favor of placing the space exploration program, including manned space flight, in the proposed civilian space organization. Nothing could be done to release further go-ahead funds from the Advanced Research Projects Agency.73

Only a little more than three months after the Eisenhower administration's draft legislation went to the Capitol, both houses of Congress on July 16 passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Despite this long-expected action, there still seemed to be a chance for Man-in-Space-Soonest, provided it could be carried out at a relatively modest cost. So Roy Johnson and his subordinates in ARPA continued to admonish the Air Force to scale down its funding requests. The Ballistic Missile Division replied that a fiscal 1959 budgetary allotment of only $50 million, the latest figure suggested by ARPA, would delay the first manned orbital launch until late 1961 or early 1962. In its sixth development plan for Man-in-Space-Soonest, issued on July 24, BMD proposed orbiting a man by June 1960 with the bare Atlas, at a cost of $106.6 million. This was an increase of $7.3 million over the project cost estimate contained in the fifth development plan on June 15. Schriever personally wrote Anderson, Commander of ARDC, that the Ballistic Missile Division was already studying requirements for a worldwide tracking network, that the heat sink versus ablation question was under examination, that three companies were designing the 117L and the Vanguard second stage as possible backup systems for the bare Atlas, and that invitations for a briefing for prospective capsule contractors could be mailed within 24 hours. Schriever asked for immediate approval for Man-in-Space-Soonest at the $106.6 million level.74

In Washington, on July 24 and 25, Ballistic Missile Division specialists gave a series of briefings for ARDC, Secretary of the Air Force Douglas, the Air Staff, and ARPA. The ARPA briefing featured urgent appeals for full, immediate program approval to give the United States a real chance to be "soonest" with a [98] man in space. ARPA Director Johnson flatly refused to give his go-ahead at that time. President Eisenhower and his advisers, he explained, were convinced there was then no valid role for the military in manned space flight. NACA, the nucleus of the civilian space program to be organized under the terms of the recently passed Space Act, already was planning its own manned satellite project, perhaps to be executed in conjunction with ARPA, at a cost of about $40 million for fiscal 1959. Consequently, said Johnson, it was futile for the Air Force to expect more than $50 million for the current fiscal year for Man-in-Space-Soonest. The implication was the Air Force would be lucky to receive even that.75

Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law on July 29, 1958. His action brought into being an organization to "plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities," to "arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations," and to "provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof" - in short, to guide the Nation into the Space Age.76 Space activities related to defense were to continue in the DOD.

There were certain basic differences between the final act and the bill that representatives of NACA, the Bureau of the Budget, and Eisenhower's other advisers had drafted and sent to Congress in April. These changes were the product especially of the activities and influence of three men: Lyndon B. Johnson, Senate majority leader and chairman of the Preparedness Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Senate Special Committee on Space and Astronautics; John W. McCormack, House majority leader and chairman of the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration; and Senate minority leader Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, ranking Republican on the Senate space committee.77

The large Space Board proposed by the administration to advise the head of the civilian agency gave way to a five-to-nine-member National Aeronautics and Space Council, charged with advising the President, who was to be its chairman. The provision for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration, headed by an administrator and a deputy administrator, rather than a "Space Agency" headed by a single director was, according to two staff members of the House space committee, "a mighty promotion in Washington bureaucratic terms."78 Reflecting general concern in Congress over the relationship between space technology and national defense, the Space Act added a Civilian-Military Liaison Committee, appointed by the President, to ensure full interchange of information and data acquired in NASA and Defense Department programs. Other significant amendments pertained to patent procedures, authority to hire some 260 persons excepted from the civil service rating system, and NASA's obligation to cooperate with "other nations and groups of nations."79

Eisenhower, acting mainly on the advice of Killian, his chief scientific adviser, passed over the respected, apolitical Dryden, Director of NACA since 1949, and named T. Keith Glennan, president of the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, [99] former member of the Atomic Energy Commission, and a staunch Republican, as the first Administrator of NASA. Dryden was appointed to the post of Deputy Administrator. Glennan would furnish the administrative leadership for the new entity, while Dryden would function as NASA's scientific and technical overseer. On August 15 the Senate voted its confirmation of Glennan and Dryden, and four days later the new Administrator met with the Abbott organization committee to review the proposed organization of NASA.80

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, absorbing more than 8000 employees and an appropriation of over $100 million from NACA, was beginning to take shape. Under the terms of the Space Act, accompanying White House directives, and later agreements with the Defense Department, the fledgling agency acquired the Vanguard project from the Naval Research Laboratory; the Explorer project and other space activities at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (but not the von Braun rocket group); the services of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, hitherto an Army contractor; and an Air Force study contract with North American for a million-pound-thrust engine, plus other Air Force rocket engine projects and instrumented satellite studies. In addition, NASA was to receive $117 million in appropriations for space ventures from the Defense Department.81 But the Space Act was silent regarding organizational responsibility for manned space flight.

73 "Outline of History of Man-in-Space Program," 149.

74 "Chronology of Early USAF Man-in-Space Activity, 1945-1958," 28-29; "Chronology of Early USAF Man-in-Space Activity, 1955-1960," 58-60.

75 Colchagoff interview; "Outline of History of Man-in-Space Program," 149; "Chronology of Early USAF Man-in-Space Activity, 1955-1960," 60-62; "Chronology of Early USAF Man-in-Space Activity, 1945-1958," 29-30. Some sense of the frustration felt by various Air Force leaders regarding man-in-space plans during this period can be gained from the biographical sketch on Brig. Gen. Don D. Flickinger in Shirley Thomas, Men of Space (6 vols., Philadelphia, 1960-1963), III, 77-79.

76 Public Law 85-568, 85 Cong., 2 sess. (1958), H.R. 12575, National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Sec. 203(a).

77 Charles S. Sheldon II, interview, Washington, Sept. 2, 1965; Glen P. Wilson, interview, Washington, Sept. 2, 1965.

78 Frank Gibney and George F. Feldman, The Reluctant Space-Farers: A Study in the Discovery of Politics (New York, 1965), 68.

79 Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, 13-15; Ambrose, "National Space Program," I, 92-152; Levine, "U.S. Aeronautical Research Policy," 172-180. The Space Council consisted of the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Administrator of NASA, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the President.

80 Senate Special Committee on Space and Astronautics, 85 Cong., 2 sess. (1958), Nominations, Hearings on the Nomination of T. Keith Glennan and Hugh L. Dryden.

81 Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, 40-42; memo for Dir., NACA, Ira H. Abbott, Ralph E. Cushman, Paul G. Dembling, Robert J. Lacklan, Ralph E. Ulmer, Clotaire Wood, "Submittal of Final Report of Ad Hoc Committee on NASA Organization based on the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958," Aug. 12, 1958; memo for Dir., NACA, "Functions of Organizational Elements in NASA Headquarters," July 25, 1958.

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