Formation of NASAThe significance of the Sputnik launches was not lost on American political leaders. The launches confirmed an earlier claim by the USSR that it possessed the ability to build nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and they demonstrated substantial Soviet competence in science and technology. Furthermore, the implied threat to U.S. national security and the fact that the USSR was the first country to achieve spaceflight detracted from the international image of U.S. leadership in advanced technology.The United States did not then possess an integrated national space program, and the president and congressional leaders became involved in creating a new organization for space activity. One leading issue concerned whether the program should be of a military nature. On Mar. 5, 1958, President Eisenhower approved a recommendation that a civilian space agency be created from the already existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA had a reputation of being a competent research organization that worked closely with the Department of Defense. Although primarily concerned with atmospheric flight, NACA felt that about half its research could be classified as space related. It had its own rocket launch station at Wallops Island, Va.
, and had provided the technical leadership for the X series of research aircraft, funded primarily by the military. The rocket-powered X-15 (see X-series aircraft), the then-current project in the series, was in reality part spacecraft because it could fly ballistically above the atmosphere for several minutes.With congressional approval of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958, NACA was transformed into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Oct. 1, 1958. The Vanguard project team and other employees from the Naval Research Laboratory were transferred to NASA, and this group became the nucleus of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Later in the year the jurisdiction of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was transferred from the U.S. Army to NASA. Finally, on July 1, 1960, Wernher von Braun's group in Huntsville was transferred to NASA, becoming the Marshall Space Flight Center.