NASA opened it's doors for business on Oct. 1, 1958, just shy of a year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. But creating a national space agency didn't happen overnight; before there was a NASA, there was the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the document that brought the agency into existence.
Sputnik shocked, frightened, and in some cases angered the United States. Not only was history's first satellite a surprise, it opened a new arena in the Cold War and a new way for nations to prove their might over one another. The American military responded with a slew of manned spaceflight proposals. The Army, Navy, and Air Force each developed plans to get a man into space before the Soviet Union.
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The problem was that there was no overarching agency to manage the influx of proposals and see one through to completion. President Dwight Eisenhower responded by establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), an agency within the Department of Defense, in the February of 1958.