On this day in engineering history, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) established the Special Committee on Space Technology – the forerunner to America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Led by Hugh Latimer Dryden, an aeronautical engineer who had supervised the development of the North American X-15 rocket plane, NACA was alarmed by the Soviet Union's recent launch of Sputnik 2, a satellite which had carried a dog named Laika into orbit. In October of 1957, the Soviets had also stunned their Cold War rival with the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, aboard an R-7 rocket which could double as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
NACA's decision to establish the Special Committee on Space Technology followed three days of secret meetings aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal, America's first super carrier. From November 18 – 20, 1957 , NACA's Committee on Aerodynamics discussed the need to do more in astronautics, the science of building vehicles for travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. Before adjourning, the 22 representatives from industry, the military and academia concluded that "NACA should act now to avoid being ruled out of the field of space flight research". The Committee on Aerodynamics also adopted a resolution calling for an "increased emphasis" on "the problems of true space flight over extended periods of time".
On November 21, 1957, NACA's Main Committee met and voted to establish a Special Committee on Space Technology. H. Guyford Stever, the Associate Dean of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was named head of this 16-member group. Committee members included James A. Van Allen, the astrophysicist who later discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belts; Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist who would become the father of America's space program; William H. Pickering, an electrical engineer who headed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II, a pioneer in aviation medicine who had served at the Mayo Clinic. Ironically, the Stever Committee also included Hendrik Wade Bode, an American engineer who had designed British defenses against Wernher von Braun's V-1 flying bombs during World War II.