On This Day in 1958, NASA Was Created

AFP // Getty Images
AFP // Getty Images

On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed a bill to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. The Congressional bill's full title was: "National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. An act to provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." Before the creation of NASA, space activity in the United States was primarily a military endeavor.

1958 was a time of great American angst over the space race. The Soviets had launched the spectacular Sputnik I satellite in October 1957, and Americans watched it soar overhead, beeping, reminding us of Soviet space superiority. When Sputnik II sent a living dog (Laika) into space just one month later, Americans fell even further behind. Many of our rockets were blowing up on the pad.

Prior to NASA we had NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Established in 1915 during World War I, NACA was concerned with aeronautical research, helping drive modern airplane designs. NACA was responsible for creating superchargers employed by high altitude bombers used in World War II. NACA also built the first wind tunnels in the US, and oversaw the X-1 (supersonic flight) project in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. When NASA was created, it immediately absorbed NACA, which by that time was getting involved in space research.

(Incidentally, at first both of these agencies were pronounced as individual letters, "N A C A" and "N A S A," much like other government agencies like "C I A" and "F B I." By the early 1960s the pronunciation of "NASA" as a two-syllable word become prominent.)

In section 102 of the Space Act that created NASA, this was the initial list of its objectives:

  1. The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
  2. The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
  3. The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space;
  4. The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes;
  5. The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere;
  6. The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
  7. Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results thereof;
  8. The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities and equipment.

If you read this in the context of the Cold War world in which it was written, there is some interesting stuff there between the lines—the agency deals both with "peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere" but also "discoveries that have military value." Of course, the latter were to be referred to the appropriate agencies. The list has been amended over the years, with the most notable being a ninth item added in 1989:

The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.

In 1983, NASA celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of that celebration, this delightfully dated video celebrated 25 years of progress, and has an excellent interview with Keith Glennan, the first administrator of NASA:

For more on the creation of NASA, read The Birth of NASA by NASA historian Steven J. Dick.

Learn Python From Home for Just $50

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

It's difficult to think of a hobby or job that doesn’t involve some element of coding in its execution. Are you an Instagram enthusiast? Coding and algorithms are what bring your friends' posts to your feed. Can’t get enough Mental Floss? Coding brings the entire site to life on your desktop and mobile screens. Even sorting through playlists on Spotify uses coding. If you're tired of playing catch-up with all the latest coding techniques and principles, the 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99 to teach you to code, challenge your brain, and boost your resume to get your dream job.

Basically, coding is how people speak to computers (cue your sci-fi vision of a chat with a creepy, sentient computer), and while it does sound a bit futuristic, the truth is that people are talking to computers every day through a program called Python. The 2020 Python Programming Training Certification Bundle will teach you how to build web applications, database applications, and web visualizations in the world’s most popular programming language.

Python is also the language computers are using to communicate back to programmers. You’ll learn how Jupyter Notebook, NumPy, and pandas can enhance data analysis and data visualization techniques with Matplotlib.

Think back to your creepy, sci-fi visual from earlier; was it some form of artificial intelligence? Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, artificial intelligence is something you can learn to create yourself. In the Keras Bootcamp, you’ll learn how to create artificial neural networks and deep-learning structures with Google’s powerful Deep Learning framework.

Coding is associated with endless text, numbers, and symbols, but the work code is performing is hardly limited to copy. Dig deep into image processing and computer vision tasks with sessions in OpenCV. You’ll give yourself an extra edge when you can use Python for sifting through information and implement machine learning algorithms on image classification.

Explore coding education with the bundle’s 12 courses, spanning from beginner to advanced levels, to elevate your skillset from home. The 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99.

 

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The Long, Fascinating History of Chocolate

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Walk into just about any grocery or convenience store today and you're sure to find row upon row of chocolate in every imaginable form. While we have come to associate this sweet treat with companies like Hershey, chocolate has been a delicacy for centuries.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas, but is now grown around the world. Inside the tree’s fruits, or pods, you’ll find the cacao beans, which—once roasted and fermented—give chocolate its signature rich and complex flavor. While we don't know who first decided to turn cacao beans into chocolate, we certainly owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

In this episode of Food History, we're digging into the history of chocolate—from its origins to the chocolate-fueled feud between J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury and much, much more. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!