PRELUDE: THE GLENNAN YEARS
When NASA formally started operations on October 1, 1958, the agency and
its administrator had broad authority to select goals and implement programs
of space exploration.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed
T. Keith Glennan as NASA's first administrator in August 1958.
As a new enterprise, space exploration confronted an array of difficult
scientific and technical problems. Three challenges stood out: 1) developing
rockets that could carry machines and humans into space; 2) learning about
the space environment; and 3) taking the first steps toward human exploration.
Under Glennan's leadership, NASA made advances in all these areas. Engineers
started development of the Saturn family of rockets that would later carry
astronauts to the Moon. In conjunction with universities, NASA began a
variety of science missions. But the greatest public excitement came with
Glennan's formation of the first human exploration effort-Project Mercury.
With the first selection of Mercury astronauts in 1959 public fascination
in space reached a fever pitch.