National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) - A brief explanation of NASA's predecessor
|In 1915, the American congress created an Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
The prefix "National" soon became customary, and the acronym NACA was formed.
The creation of NACA came in a time of scientific bloom. It was a time in which aviation was just evolving.
In the early 1900s, European nations as well as the United States were all researching aviation,
but the American flight was lagging behind European discoveries.
Both Germany and Great-Britain were actively researching aviation and were making significant progress.
The Wright Brothers (True, Orville and Wilbur) benifited from the work of European pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal in Germany
and Percy Pilcher in Great Britain and they made their historical first flight on December 17 December 1903,
on a beach in North Carolina. Still, American research was lacking organisation and continued to lag behind.
In the United States, people started to talk about a research organisation for aviation.
The problem with this was that the American public generally had a negative attitude towards aviation:
It caused a lot of fatalities and the gain was little.
However, when the war broke out in 1914, aviation research was stimulated and this finally led to the foundation of NACA in 1915.
NACA was soon very busy with aviation projects. Mostly they were conducting aviation-related experiments.|
When the war ended, plans were made by NACA to create a research laboratory for civil aviation.
Construction on such a facility started in 1917 and was finished in 1920,
after which it was called "the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory", often referred to as "Langley".
Because the research center was about the only major research center in aviation,
engineers from all over the United States came to Langley to share their expertise.
Almost all of these had degrees in civil or mechanical engineering,
because very few universities offered a degree in aeronautical engineering.
The huge growth of interest for aeronautics did eventually lead to universities offering degrees in aeronautics.
By 1929, 1400 aero-engineering students were enrolled in a university in the United States.
In the 1920s, NACA research on aviation was enormous. This amount of research led to ever improving aviation in the 1930s,
even though the world was experiencing an economic crisis.|
Meanwhile, Robert Hutchings Goddard had graduated from Clark University and joined the physics faculty there.
During his lectures, rocketry was always one of his prime interests and he continued to experiment with rockets.
In 1926, one of Goddard's rockets made the first ever rocketry flight. Even though it lasted only for 2.5 seconds,
it was a historical moment. Meanwhile, Russian and German scientists were also researching and experimenting with rocketry.
Their advances led to rapid growth of "astronautics".|
Aeronautics and Astronautics had flourished for the past years, but the next fifteen years seemed even more remarkable,
with streamlined aircraft, WWII combat planes and rocketry used as a military weapon,
all of which wouldn't have been possible without NACA. Many of these advances were of course stimulated by the second World War.
In NACA's final years, in 1945-1958, more significant advances were made in aeronautics:
In 1947, Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager broke the supersonic barrier in his X-1 craft.
In the mid-1950s, the Soviet-American "Space Race" began.|
|Both the United States and the Soviet Union worked hard to get the first man-made sattelite in orbit.
Eventually, the Soviet Union won the "race", when their Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit in October 1957.
At that time, the American space projects were still mostly in their test phases or on the drawing board,
and America was seriously lagging behind. In 1958, it was agreed that America needed an official space program.
On July 29 of that year, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958,
which changed the NACA to NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Association.
|Read more about NACA|