Happy Birthday, NASA! 55 Years and Counting
President Eisenhower commissioned Dr. T. Keith Glennan, right, as the first administrator for NASA and Dr. Hugh L. Dryden as deputy administrator. The National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub.L. 85-568), the United States federal statute that created NASA, was signed into law 50 years ago today on July 29, 1958.
Credit: NASA

Fifty-five years ago today, a space agency was born.

We're talking, of course, about NASA, which launched into existence on July 29, 1958, when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub.L. 85-568) into law. Just 11 years later, Americans were walking on the moon. (Actually the Apollo 11 crew had already made it to the moon and back by July 29, 1969. They landed on the moon July 20 of that year and returned to Earth on July 24.) After being signed into law, NASA officially opened its doors on Oct. 1. The agency was born as a result from the Cold War and Sputnik and a Space Race that saw massive investment in technology and innovation that was unparalleled for its time. Within the space of just eight years, from 1961 to 1969, humanity went from launching space travelers in tiny capsules to landing people on the moon. NASA even sent cars to the moon. Seriously, astronauts didn't just walk on another world. They took a Sunday drive, too.  [Most Historic Achievements of Human Spaceflight]

Today, it might be easy to think that the best years of NASA and the American space program are in the past. NASA has been to the moon, been there and done that, and its budget now is nowhere near what it was in the Apollo moon mission heyday. But it seems to me that NASA has a much different role now than in the '50s and '60s. The Soviet Union is gone, Russia is a welcome partner and there is an International Space Station the size of a football field in space with six people living on it, right now. I can see it from my porch on good nights. Today, NASA is partnering with private space companies and aiming for deep-space travel beyond the moon. Whether NASA ultimately makes it back to the moon, snags an asteroid and parks it near the moon, or lands people on Mars — which sci-fi fans have really been waiting for—one thing is clear: I don't think we're going to want to miss the next 55 years. So Happy 55th Birthday, NASA, and here's looking at the next 100.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+.