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Half A Century Of NASA

I have some fiftieth birthday thoughts over at Pajamas Media.

[Early afternoon update]

Well, this is annoying. A screwed-up history from Time magazine:

NASA was actually founded in 1915 and at the time was known as the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics -- or NACA. Its job was to keep the nation abreast of the latest developments in the then-nascent technology of powered flight. NACA was established with good intentions but operated mostly as a bureaucratic backwater, a government body that couldn't hope to keep up with a rapidly evolving private industry. In 1957, however, all that changed. That was the year the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first Earth satellite -- and in the process, scared the daylights out of the U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower acted quickly, dusting off NACA and renaming it NASA -- for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On October 1, 1958, the new agency officially went into business.

No, NASA was not NACA, or "founded in 1915." NACA was a completely different kind of animal. It had nothing to do with space, and it was not an operational organization. It was a basic research outfit, and viewed the aviation industry as its customer, providing data and resources that allowed them to build better airplanes.

Sadly, once it was absorbed into the borg of the new space and aeronautics agency fifty years ago, it lost that focus, and the new entity largely saw itself as the customer, and the space industry as its contractors. Many argue that we need to return to a NACA philosophy for space, but it's extremely misleading and confusing to state that NASA is NACA, and that its history goes back over ninety years. In fact, it is false.

He also doesn't really explain why JSC is in Houston. Yes, Johnson was happy to have the mission control center in Texas, but Texas is a big state, and there are no particular geographical requirements for mission control (unlike, e.g., a launch site). It could as easily have been in Dallas or elsewhere. It was established in Houston because Rice University donated a lot of land for it.


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kert wrote:

Thats a rather good summary article as well: A midlife crisis

Problem is, this one cant afford a Porsche

ech wrote:

Um. It wasn't because Rice U. donated the land. It was political clout.

Albert Thomas, one of the House Reps for the Houston area, was high in seniority in the House and was a crony of LBJ. He arranged for the land to be donated to Rice for the MSC site. He was one of the Rice Hotel guys that ran politics in the Houston area for quite a while.

Edward Wright wrote:

Also, the organization was never known as "NACA." It was always *the* N.A.C.A. -- pronounced "En Ay Cee Ay."

Even when NASA was created, many of the guys at the old NACA centers continued to say they worked for "the N.A.S.A."

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 1, 2008 6:19 AM.

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