On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Drily titled federal statutes aren’t rare – there’ve been about 30,000 or so of them since Congress first started doing its thing. But it’s not often a president gets to sign a piece of paper that will result in footprints on the moon and trippy photos of the cosmos. And that’s just what Eisenhower accomplished when, exactly 65 years ago, NASA was born.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration represented a fundamental shift in the United States’ attitude toward the study and exploration of outer space. It was no longer a military but a civilian operation; its stated focus wasn’t racing our enemies to a finish line but rather expanding the horizons of humankind.
Which turned out to be a pretty broad and all-encompassing mandate that came to include not only popularizing Tang and sending people up to thwack golf balls on the moon, but also investigating other planets, building new technologies, launching telescopes, studying interplanetary dirt, and listening for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Here are ten books that give a sense of the scope of NASA’s evolving mission over the decades.