National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. The new agency (which absorbed the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, its predecessor) began operations on October 1, 1959, with 8,000 employees and a budget of $100 million. The first astronauts were all highly skilled test pilots with military experience. When NASA began selecting candidates for astronaut training in 1959, it asked the service branches to provide lists of personnel who met certain strict criteria; candidates had to be qualified jet pilots and graduates of test pilot school, with a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying time. During NASA's first two decades, those selected to become astronauts tended to be current or former military pilots. The military background of early astronauts explains why many of them are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This also explains why there were no women astronauts until 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.