The acronym NASA is synonymous with space exploration. NASA fulfilled the challenge made by President John F. Kennedy before Congress on May 25, 1961. That day Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” With that statement, Kennedy shared with Congress, the nation, and the world that the space race had a new objective. That race, which began in 1957 with the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellites, was now a race to the moon. That challenge was met on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, made his “. . . one giant leap for mankind.”

Like most memorable events in history, there is a backstory to NASA and Apollo 11. And like many backstories, this one is often obscured by the main event, as history is distilled over time. The role of President Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy’s predecessor, and the transition from the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), created in 1916 to be the government’s organization for aviation research, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is such a backstory.

Dr. Michael McGough is a member of the board of trustees of the Eisenhower Society.

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