Today In Science History – July 29 – Happy Birthday NASA 1

NASA Meatball
NASA’s “Meatball” logo was designed by a NASA employee in 1958. Credit: NASA

July 29 is NASA’s birthday.

In October of 1957, the Soviet Union greatly injured the pride of the United States by launching the first artificial satellite, Sputnik into orbit around the Earth. Until this event, the United States had not put a lot of effort into launching rockets into space. Most of the rocket research was done by the military and focused on ballistic missiles.

Sputnik changed all that overnight. United States public opinion held that the Soviet Union had gained huge strides to outpace the United States in technology and science. People felt “something” had to be done about it. The “something” was the reimaging of the old National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) into the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. President Eisenhower signed the act that would create NASA on July 29, 1958.

NASA would begin operations on October 1, 1958–almost a full year after Sputnik began its orbit. They started with 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $100 million. Their motto was “For the Benefit of All”. The Space Race was begun.

By NASA’s 11th birthday, they had successfully matched the Soviet Union by putting satellites in orbit and men into space and back again. They surpassed the Soviet Union when they landed the first men to walk on the surface of the Moon and return them safely.

Over the next twenty years, NASA would join the Soviets in space in joint missions aboard the space station Mir. They would build their own scientific research station, Skylab. They also launched a fleet of reusable spaceships that could provide regular access to low Earth orbit. They landed probes on Mars and introduced us to a larger neighborhood. Voyager 1 and 2 was beginning to send us images of the gas giant planets of our Solar System.

By 2000, NASA joined Russia and 15 other nations to build a permanent space laboratory, the International Space Station (ISS). The Pathfinder missions were exploring Mars, on the ground and in orbit.

Today, one of the Voyager probes has left our Solar System. One even visited the planets Uranus and Neptune. NASA operates the Earth Observing System of satellites designed to watch our own home from above and monitor the changes it is undergoing. There are missions currently investigating the Sun, Mars, asteroids, and comets. There are several space-bound telescope systems looking outward to expand our knowledge.

NASA is constantly striving to enhance our lives in aeronautic research and human explorations. Their science mission is charting the future of our exploration with new technology being constantly innovated. Happy Birthday NASA!

Other Notable Events of July 29

1994 – Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin died.

Dorothy Hodgkin 20p Stamp
The UK issued a commemorative stamp honoring Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin.

Hodgkin was a British chemist who pioneered 3-dimensional x-ray crystallography of molecules. She used this technique to discover the structure of many important biochemicals such as penicillin, vitamin B12, and insulin. For this work, she was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


1982 – Vladimir Kozmich Zworykin died.

Vladimir Kosma Zworykin Kinescope
Vladimir Kosma Zworykin demonstrating his kinescope in 1929. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

Zworykin was a Russian-American engineer who pioneered television technology. He invented a method to transmit and receive television signals using cathode ray tubes. His cathode ray tube, which he called a ‘kinescope’ used an electron beam focused by magnetic and electric fields to form a spot on a fluorescent screen. His transmitter tube was further developed while working for RCA was named the ‘iconoscope’. This tube was the first fully electronic system for television cameras.

 1910 – Heinz Ludwig Fraenkel-Conrat was born.

Heinz Ludwig Fraenkel-Conrat (1910 – 1999). Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Fraenkel-Conrat was a German-American biochemist who discovered the complementary roles of the component structures of viruses. He found viruses were built of a core or ribonucleic acid (RNA) wrapped in a protein coat. He removed the nucleic acid component of the tobacco mosaic virus from its noninfectious protein part. Then he recombined the molecules and the virus became infectious again showing the infectious part of a virus resides in the nucleic acid portion of the virus.

 1898 – John Alexander Reina Newlands died.

John Alexander Reina Newlands (1838 – 1898). Wikimedia Commons

Newlands was a British chemist who noticed the repeating pattern of elements arranged by atomic weight where every eighth element had similar chemical properties. He called this the Law of octaves and was a major contribution towards the development of the periodic table.

 1898 – Isidor Isaac Rabi was born.

Isidor Isaac Rabi
Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898 – 1988) Credit: Nobel Foundation

Rabi was a German-American physicist who was awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance. NMR is where magnetic nuclei in a magnetic field are exposed to an electromagnetic pulse and absorb energy from the pulse and radiate the energy back out. The energy radiated out depends on the magnetic field and quantum magnetic properties of the nuclei.