Chapter 3

Pre-Mercury Heritage in Biotechnology

UNTIL THE CONGRESS CLARIFIED SPACE ROLES and missions, the Department of Defense effort in missile and space affairs was variegated and geared for response to a potential military threat that had been presented by Sputnik—the demonstration of Soviet rocket technology.

On January 13, 1958, preceding the establishment of NASA under the Space Act, the Secretary of Defense, Neil H. McElroy, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that he proposed to establish within the Department of Defense an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to be responsible for the unified direction and management of the anti-missile-missile program and for outer space projects.* The proposal was approved by the President on March 27, 1958. ARPA was directed to undertake space projects, including the launching of certain satellites and five space probes is part of the United States’ contribution to the International Geophysical Year.

When NASA was declared operational on October 1, DOD responsibilities for the remaining U.S. IGY satellite probe projects were transferred to NASA by Executive order. Earlier, on September 17, 1958, a joint NASA-ARPA manned satellite panel had been established to make recommendations for a manned space flight program.1  This would be Project Mercury.

Meanwhile, the year following Sputnik had been one in which research and development took unprecedented forward strides within the services. In that period two potentially workable satellite research concepts were emerging within the Department of Defense. The medical implications of each were to have significant bearing on the future Mercury program.


* According to "A Chronolgy of Missile and Astronautic Events" published in House Report 67 (87th Cong., 1st sess.), p. 36, this plan had been announced approximately a month before, on Dec. 5.


1.  Introduction to Outer Space: An Explanatory Statement, dated Mar. 9 and released Mar. 26, 1958, by the White House.


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