1 October 1958
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) opens its doors, becoming a civilian and scientific space agency for the United States. NASA was born from the ashes of the preceding National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), with some debate over whether the American space agency should be run for civilian or military purposes. After much conjecture from scientists and researchers, the former ultimately won out. NASA began with 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $100 million. Today it boasts more than 17,000 and a budget of over $19 billion (£14.6 billion). And thanks to the early work of people fighting the corner for a peaceful space agency, NASA has grown to become the leading advocate of space science and exploration in the world. It has explored all the major planets, landed on the Moon, study Earth’s climate, visited Pluto, and even sent spacecraft beyond the Solar System.
11 October 1958
NASA launches its first spacecraft, Pioneer 1, on top of a Thor-able rocket. The spacecraft had an ambitious goal of reaching the Moon, but a programming error meant the probe fell back to Earth less than two days after launch.
3 March 1959
Pioneer 4 launches, the first US spacecraft to pass by the Moon.
28 May 1959
Able and Baker become the first monkeys to survive a spaceflight.
5 May 1961
Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space (and the second human after Soviet Yuri Gagarin weeks prior) on the Freedom 7 spacecraft. During the 15-minute flight he reached an altitude of 187.5 kilometres before returning to Earth.
Alan Shepard pictured onboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft
Pioneer was also designed to measure cosmic radiation