Turning Small Steps into Giant Leaps: NASA’s Genesis and Its Culmination in the Apollo Program
College of Arts and Sciences
Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)
space, mercury, apollo, nasa, naca, military, technology, cold war, space race, rocket, missile, arpa, darpa, jpl, national aeronautics and space administration, national advisory committee for aeronautics, jet propulsion laboratory, sputnik, gemini, abma, army ballistic missile agency, advanced research projects agency, soviet union, administrative
Maples, Hunter L., "Turning Small Steps into Giant Leaps: NASA’s Genesis and Its Culmination in the Apollo Program" (2023). Masters Theses. 969.
On July 16, 1969, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong dropped himself onto the dusty surface of the Moon, momentarily followed by his lunar module pilot, Buzz Aldrin. It is simple to recognize the clear historical significance of the Apollo moon landings. It can also be easy, however, to overlook the work of thousands of individuals and decades of development that culminated in a lunar voyage. Because the moon landings were unprecedented, the hardware required had to be developed from scratch and mission protocol had to be written. Additionally, the United States was competing against its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, which had already thrusted a manmade satellite into orbit. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 to coordinate the space program of the United States. NASA was a conglomeration of various military personnel, facilities, and technology as well as an experimental aeronautics regulatory agency known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). As its first steps in manned space exploration, NASA began Project Mercury. It would loft America’s first astronauts into space and set the stage for further projects that ultimately led to the Apollo moon landings. Even though Project Gemini immediately preceded Project Apollo, the Mercury program set a course for the young NASA to eventually reach the Moon. The creation of NASA from military assets and NACA, its early administrative personnel and structure, as well as its first steps in Project Mercury were foundational for later success achieved by Project Apollo.