One of the most important developments of the twentieth century has been the movement of humanity into space with machines and people. The underpinnings of that movement-—why it took the shape it did; which individuals and organizations were involved; what factors drove a particular choice of scientific objectives and technologies to be used; and the political, economic, managerial, and international contexts in which the events of the space age unfolded—are all important ingredients of this epoch transition from an Earthbound to a spacefaring people. This desire to understand the development of spaceflight in the United States sparked this documentary history series.
The extension of human activity into outer space has been accompanied by a high degree of self-awareness of its historical significance. Few large-scale activities have been as extensively chronicled so closely to the time they actually occurred. Many of those who were directly involved were quite conscious that they were making history, and they kept full records of their activities.
Because most of the activity in outer space was carried out under government sponsorship, it was accompanied by the documentary record required of public institutions, and there has been a spate of official and privately written histories of most major aspects of space achievement to date. When top leaders considered what course of action to pursue in space, their deliberations and decisions often were carefully put on the record. There is, accordingly, no lack of material for those who aspire to understand the origins and evolution of U.S. space policies and programs.
This reality forms the rationale for this series. Precisely because there is so much historical material available on space matters, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decided in 1988 that it would be extremely useful to have easily available to scholars and the interested public a selective collection of many of the seminal documents related to the evolution of the U.S. civilian space program.