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60 Years Ago: NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center Opens, Moving to Houston

EXTRA!! EXTRA!! Read all about it in the first issue of Space News Roundup!

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the nation to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. The Space Task Group (STG), established in 1958 at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, was already tasked with putting American astronauts into space. With the new Moon landing goal, the STG required larger facilities and, following a nationwide search for a proper location, NASA chose an area southeast of Houston to build the new center. On Nov. 1, 1961, the agency announced the renaming of the STG to the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) and its relocation to Houston. The MSC’s functions included control of human space missions, spacecraft development and testing, astronaut selection and training, and research and development.

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Left: Director of the newly-named Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Robert R. Gilruth, left, and his special assistant Paul E. Purser read the inaugural issue of the Space News Roundup announcing the renaming of the Space Task Group and its relocation to Houston. Right: The front page of the Space News Roundup issue that Gilruth and Purser are reading.

On the day of the announcement, the MSC published the very first issue of its newsletter, the Space News Roundup, its pages reproduced in this article. Today, 60 years later, the Roundup continues to provide, in its online version, useful and timely information to the center’s employees.

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Pages 2, 3, and 4 of the Nov. 1, 1961 issue of the Space News Roundup.

A photo spread on pages 5 and 6 of the Nov. 1, 1961 issue of the Space News Roundup, highlighting some Houston attractions of interest to the Langley Research Center employees planning to relocate.

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Pages 7 and 8 of the Nov. 1, 1961 issue of the Space News Roundup.

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Left: The site on Clear Lake southeast of Houston being prepared for construction of the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), in 1962. Right: JSC as it appeared in 2019.

Over the past 60 years, the MSC, renamed JSC in 1973 following the death of President Lyndon B. Johnson, has grown and changed to maintain its lead role in America’s ever more complex human spaceflight programs. The area surrounding the center has also seen tremendous growth.

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Left: The sign at the main entrance to the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Right: The U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over the sign at JSC’s main entrance in 2020.

Houston’s downtown skyline in 1959. Credit: Image courtesy Sloane Gallery.

Houston’s downtown skyline today. Credit: Image courtesy HDR.

And of course, the city of Houston overall has grown much larger, as exemplified by the views of its downtown skyline then and now.

A few fun facts about Houston then and now.

We can use our imaginations about what the Roundup’s headline will read on Nov. 1, 2081? Let’s see what the next 60 years will bring!