NASA turns 55: Iconic moments in America's space program

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WASHINGTON. July 30. KAZINFORM Spurred to action by the Soviet Union's successful space program that sent the world's first satellite into orbit, US President Dwight Eisenhower knew that America needed a more organized and focused effort that could compete with the country's Cold War adversary. That realization led to the creation 55 years ago of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

With the Cold War over, and with space cooperation replacing the space race, NASA has had many milestones since its creation in 1958-the early ventures of which were initiated merely to keep up with the Soviets.

Here are 15 iconic moments in NASA's 55-year history, Kazinform quotes RIA Novosti.

1. After Russia launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik (Russian for "traveling companion"), NASA immediately began work on its own design. Following three months of development, Explorer 1 was launched and began circling the earth 12 times per day for a dozen years. Here, the scientists who created the satellite hold up a full-scale model of Explorer 1 in Washington in 1958, after confirmation that it was successfully in orbit.

2. The X-15 rocket aircraft-a joint program by NASA, the US Air Force and Navy, and North American Aviation-made 199 flights to the edge of space between 1959 and 1968, breaking speed and altitude records at the time. Among its pilots was a young Neil Armstrong, pictured here.

3. Ham the chimp became the first hominid in space. In January 1961, the monkey survived the historic mission and returned safely to Earth. Here, Ham is retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean after his vessel splashed down from space.

4. Less than a month after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to outer space and orbit the Earth in April 1961, US astronaut Alan Shepard boarded an American rocket for a 15-minute flight into the cosmos.

5. In an address to the US Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announces full presidential support for the United States to "commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out, to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

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