On this day July 29, 1958
U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, establishing a new federal non-military space agency known as NASA.
The Act, which followed close on the heels of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, was drafted by the United States House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration.
Prior to enactment, the responsibility for space exploration was deemed primarily a military venture, in line with the Soviet model that had launched the first orbital satellite. In large measure, the Act was prompted by the lack of response to that military infrastructure that seemed incapable of keeping up the space race.
In addition to the creation of NASA, the previously created National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a military-based tribunal, was converted into an independent advisory panel reporting directly to the president.
The Act also created a Civilian-Military Advisory Panel, based thereafter at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that would advise and coordinate the military uses of space. To this day, the United States has coordinated but separate military and civilian space programs, with much of the former involved in launching military and surveillance craft and, prior to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, planning counter-measures to the anticipated Soviet launch of nuclear warheads into space.
In addition, the new law made extensive modifications to the patent law and provided that both employee inventions as well as private contractor innovations brought about through space travel would be subject to government ownership.
By making the government the exclusive provider of space transport, the act effectively discouraged the private development of space travel. This situation endured until the law was modified by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, enacted to allow civilian use of NASA systems in launching space vehicles.