In 1958, nearly one year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the U.S. government—encouraged by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, the chairman of the Military Preparedness Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Armed Forces—enacted the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which in turn created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA absorbed the earlier National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and quickly built on its roots, expanding its mission and eventually outgrowing its allotted space at the Langley Research Center, part of Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia.

The search for a new manned-spaceflight laboratory was a difficult one, resulting in a few finalists, including MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and Houston. The victor would need three aces to win—geography, political support, and people—and Houston fit the bill with the land donated by Humble Oil to Rice University; the access to water, electricity, industry, and higher education, particularly Rice University; and the influence of Lyndon Johnson, the vice president and the head of the Space Council.

A decision had been made, and by 1961, the halls of Langley were lined with the proclamation “Houston is a good place to live!” In 1973, the Manned Spacecraft Center was renamed the Johnson Space Center after the late president Johnson, who had been one of the first political figures to promote exploration of this new frontier.


1869: Edward Everett Hale writes a short novel called The Brick Moon (a science-fiction tale about a manned satellite used as a navigational aid to ships at sea), which is serialized in the Atlantic Monthly.

1923: Hermann Oberth coins the term “space station.” It becomes the starting point for flights to the Moon and Mars.

1926: Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket.

1945: Wernher von Braun comes to the United States from Germany to build rockets for the U.S. Army.

October 4, 1957: The USSR launches Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. Dwight Eisenhower is president and Lyndon B. Johnson is the Democratic majority leader of the Senate when the news is heard across the globe.

October 1, 1958: The U.S. establishes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

January 31, 1958: The U.S. launches its first Earth satellite, Explorer I.

October 7, 1958: NASA begins the first man-in-space program, Project Mercury.

May 5, 1961: Alan B. Shepard Jr. becomes the first American to fly into space.

September 19, 1961: The Executive Office and NASA announce that Houston is the chosen location for the new manned-spaceflight laboratory.

February 20, 1962: John H. Glenn Jr. becomes the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth.

June 3, 1965: Edward H. White Jr. becomes the first U.S. astronaut to conduct a space walk during Gemini 4.

July 20, 1969: The Apollo 11 mission lands Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. on the Moon.

1975: The U.S. and the USSR conduct the first international human spaceflight.

January 28, 1986: The Challenger shuttle explodes, killing all seven crew members.

1995: American astronaut Norman Thagard begins living on the Russian space station Mir.

1998: NASA begins working with Russia on the International Space Station (ISS).

February 1, 2003: Space shuttle Columbia breaks up over Texas. All seven crew members die.


Dethloff, Henry C. Suddenly, Tomorrow Came . . . A History of the Johnson Space Center. The NASA History Series. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1993.