Tim Rives, the Deputy Director and Supervisory Archivist of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, held a presentation at the Cosmosphere’s July Coffee @ the Cosmo event regarding the late President’s establishment of NASA 60 years ago this weekend.
Want to watch the presentation? Click Here!
Don’t have time to watch the video? Here are our top take-aways:
On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower created the civilian-lead space agency—NASA. Often times, JFK receives credit for the establishment of the organization, but that assumption is incorrect. The launch of Sputnik, and subsequently Sputnik II, by the Soviet Union shocked the United States into action. Eisenhower received lots of public criticism, due to his perceived lack of action.
In order to alleviate some of the public fear, Ike also established the National Defense Education Act. This act essentially declared that, due to the Soviet’s launch of Sputnik, it was now an international freedom to navigate the globe from space (ie no one owns space). This act did work to instill confidence in the public that the US was taking the Space Race seriously.
NASA grew rapidly in the first couple years of existence. The NASA budget grew from $300 mil to over $900 mil in the first two years, and employees grew from zero to 18,000 in the same span of time. However, the Race to Space really gained traction after President Kennedy’s “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech in 1963. President Eisenhower felt the speech was a ploy by the Kennedy administration to detract from the Bay of Pigs incident and that the Mercury and Gemini program activities were more stunts than true scientific endeavor. In response to Ike’s criticism, Astronaut Frank Borman wrote a personal letter to the President expressing his personal commitment to the objectives of NASA and the exploration of Space. Ike replied with a note expressing respect for the people and accomplishments of the space industry and stressed the importance, in his opinion, of NASA’s efforts to further scientific research. In the letter, Eisenhower noted that JFK’s challenge to get a man on the Moon pushed priorities in a direction he would not have followed had he still been president.