The launch of Sputnik in 1957, the first artificial Earth satellite, was the crack of a starting pistol beginning the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
While President Dwight D. Eisenhower oversaw the launch of Explorer I, the first United States satellite, in 1958, no president embodied the spirit of exploration and American achievement of the U.S. space program more than John F. Kennedy.
On May 25, 1961, Kennedy addressed a special joint session of Congress with a dramatic and ambitious proposal, to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.
Now it is time to take longer strides — time for a great new American enterprise — time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
Years before that speech, NGA predecessor organizations were already hard at work to meet the challenge of space. Beginning in 1957 and 1958, respectively, the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center and the Army Map Service initiated efforts to collect telescope observations and photographic data with an eye toward composing maps of the moon. With this step, the cause of lunar mapping enlisted for the first time the services of professional cartographers experienced in the production of terrestrial maps of the highest quality.
The National Aeronautical and Space Administration, then a relatively new government agency, played the lead role in the mission, but NASA didn’t do it alone. Cartographers from predecessor agencies of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency created detailed maps and charts of the lunar surface, which provided NASA scientists and technicians precise coordinates and optional landing sites.
ACIC and Army Map Service, another NGA predecessor organization, support to the space program continued throughout the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs.