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.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.