After World War II, the Department of Defense began a serious research push into the fields of rocketry and upper atmosphere sciences to ensure American leadership in technology. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in support of this effort, approved a plan to orbit a scientific satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) for the period July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958, a cooperative effort to gather scientific data about the Earth. Quickly, the Soviet Union jumped in, announcing plans to orbit its own satellite.

On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration agency absorbed the earlier National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which was a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958, the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel formed the core of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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