The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known as NASA, officially began operation on October 1, 1958. Its creation was authorized by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which was signed into law on July 29, 1958 by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
NASA was established to help the United States win the space race against the Soviet Union and to put a civilian, rather than military, face on space exploration. Following the Soviet launch of the artificial satellite Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957, the U.S. turned its attention from launching rocket planes to exploring space. Eisenhower quickly developed NASA, as a government agency, in order to expand on the actions of the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, known as NACA.