Staff and leadership

Space flight programs

Manned programs

X-15 rocket plane

Project Mercury

Project Gemini

Apollo program


Apollo–Soyuz Test Project

Space Shuttle program

International Space Station

Commercial programs

Beyond Low Earth Orbit program

Sputnik crisis

The Sputnik crisis was a period of public fear and anxiety in Western nations about the perceived technological gap between the United States and Soviet Union caused by the Soviets' launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. The crisis was a key event in the Cold War that triggered the creation of NASA and the Space Race between the two superpowers. The satellite was launched on October 4, 1957, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The USSR used ICBM technology to launch Sputnik into space. This gave the Soviets two propaganda advantages over the U.S. at once: the capability to send the satellite into orbit, and proof of the distance capabilities of their missiles. This proved that the Soviets had rockets capable of sending nuclear weapons from Russia to Western Europe and even North America. This was the most immediate threat that the launch of Sputnik 1 posed. The United States, a land with a history of geographical security from European wars, suddenly seemed vulnerable.
Five days after the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, Eisenhower addressed the people of the United States. After being asked by a reporter about security concerns regarding the Russian satellite, Eisenhower said "Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota".
Politicians used the event to bolster their ratings in polls. Research and development was used as a propaganda tool and Congress spent large sums of money on the perceived problem of American technological deficiency. After the launch of Sputnik 1 national security advisers overestimated the USSR's current and potential rocket strength which alarmed portions of Congress and the executive branch. When these estimations were released, Eisenhower was forced into an accelerated missile race to appease those concerned with America's safety. Sputnik provoked Congress into taking action on improving the United States' standing in the fields of science.
Less than a year after the Sputnik launch, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). The act was a four-year program that poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system. In 1953 the government spent $153 million, and colleges took $10 million of that funding; however, by 1960 the combined funding grew almost six-fold because of the NDEA. After the initial public shock, the Space Race began, leading to the first human launched into space, Project Apollo and the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969.
Further expansion was made in the funding and research of space weapons and missile defense in the form of anti-ballistic missile proposals. Education programs were initiated to foster a new generation of engineers and support was dramatically increased for scientific research. Congress increased the National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for 1959 to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget stood at nearly $500 million.