The Urgent Origin of ARPA
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On October 4, 1957, there was a beeping sound "heard" round the world.
It came while the United States and Soviet Union were caught in the fervor of the Cold War, but also at a time when people believed that American ingenuity and industry could overcome any technical challenge. So when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, Americans were shocked and worried. If the Soviets could put a satellite into space, what would stop them from putting a nuclear warhead into space next? The space race was on!
The creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was among the first responses to this apparent challenge. On November 13, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed a wary nation saying, "The world will witness future discoveries even more startling than that of nuclear fission. The question is: Will we be the ones to make them?"
The Administration's answer was to overhaul the government's approach to research and development. Without considerable investments in basic research, President Eisenhower feared, the nation's military technology would lag. ARPA was created to make those investments.
On February 7, 1958, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy issued a directive and ARPA was formally born.
2018 will mark the Agency's 60th anniversary. Over the course of the coming year, we look forward to highlighting some of the signature and more obscure achievements from our six decades of innovation, and, more importantly, describing our vision for an even richer technology landscape ahead.