Johnson Space Center has its origins in
Space Task Group (STG), created on November 5, 1958, with
Langley Research Center engineers under the direction of
Robert Gilruth, to direct
Project Mercury and follow-on manned space programs. The STG originally reported to the
Goddard Space Flight Center organization, with a total staff of 45, including eight secretaries and "computers" (women who ran calculations on mechanical adding machines), and 37 engineers. This was expanded in 1959 by the addition of 32 Canadian engineers put out of work by the cancellation of the
Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow project. But by the time he left office on January 20, 1961, the first NASA administrator
T. Keith Glennan realized that as the STG grew with the scope of America's space program, it would outgrow the Langley and Goddard centers and require its own location. Nineteen days earlier, he had written a memo to his yet-unnamed successor (who turned out to be
James E. Webb), recommending a new site be chosen. By the time President
John F. Kennedy set the goal in 1961 to put a man on the
Moon by the end of the decade, it became clear Gilruth would need a larger organization to lead the
Apollo Program, with new test facilities and research laboratories suitable to mount an
expedition to the Moon.
In 1961, Congress held hearings and passed a $1.7 billion 1962 NASA appropriations bill which included $60 million for the new "manned spaceflight laboratory". A set of requirements for the new site was drawn up and released to the Congress and general public. These included: access to
water transport by large barges, a moderate climate, availability of all-weather commercial jet service, a well-established industrial complex with supporting technical facilities and labor, close proximity to a culturally attractive community in the vicinity of an institution of higher education, a strong electric utility and water supply, at least 1000 acres of land, and certain specified cost parameters. In August 1961, Webb tasked Associate Director of the
Ames Research Center John F. Parsons with heading a site selection team, which included Philip Miller, Wesley Hjornevik, and I. Edward Campagna, the construction engineer for the STG.
 The team initially came up with a list of 22 cities based on the climate and water criteria, then cut this to a short list of nine with nearby federal facilities:
Another 14 sites were then added, including two additional Houston sites chosen because of proximity to the
University of Houston and
 The team visited all 23 sites between August 21 and September 7, 1961. During these visits, Massachusetts Governor
John A. Volpe and Senator
Margaret Chase Smith headed a delegation which exerted particularly strong political pressure, prompting a personal inquiry to Webb from President Kennedy. Senators and Congressmen from sites in Missouri and California similarly lobbied the selection team. Proponents of sites in Boston, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia, went so far as to make separate presentations to Webb and the Headquarters staff, so Webb added these additional sites to the final review.
Following its tour, the team identified MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as its first choice, based on the fact the Air Force was planning to close down its Strategic Air Command operations there. The Houston Rice University site was second, and the Benicia Ordnance Depot in San Francisco was third. Before a decision could be made, however, the Air Force decided not to close MacDill, omitting it from consideration and moving the Rice University site to first place. Webb informed President Kennedy on September 14 of the decision made by him and deputy administrator
Hugh Dryden in two separate memoranda, one reviewing the criteria and procedures, and the other stating: “Our decision is that this laboratory should be located in Houston, Texas, in close association with Rice University and the other educational institutions there and in that region.” The Executive Office and NASA made advance notifications of the award, and the public announcement of the location followed on September 19, 1961. According to
Texas A&M University historian
Henry C. Dethloff, "Although the Houston site neatly fit the criteria required for the new center, Texas undoubtedly exerted an enormous political influence on such a decision. Lyndon B. Johnson was Vice President and head of the Space Council,
Albert Thomas headed the House Appropriations Committee,
Bob Casey and
Olin E. Teague were members of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, and Teague headed the Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight. Finally,
Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the House of Representatives."
The land for the new facility was 1,000 acres (400 hectares) donated to Rice by the
Humble Oil company, situated in an undeveloped area 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Houston adjacent to
Clear Lake near
 At the time, the land was used to graze cattle. Immediately after Webb's announcement, Gilruth and his staff began planning the move from Langley to Houston, using what would grow to 295,996 square feet (27,498.9 m2) of leased office and laboratory space in 11 scattered sites.
 On November 1, the conversion of the Task Group to MSC became official.
Construction and early operations
Tracts of land in the vicinity of the Manned Spacecraft Center were either owned or being under exclusive control of Joseph L. Smith & Associates, Inc.
 NASA purchased an additional 600 acres (240 hectares) so the property would face a highway, and the total included another 20 acres (8.1 hectares) reserve drilling site. Construction of the center, designed by
Charles Luckman, began in April 1962, and Gilruth's new organization was formed and moved to the temporary locations by September.
 That month, Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University on the US space program. The speech is famous for highlighting the Apollo program, but Kennedy also made reference to the new Center:
What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, ... with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.
— John F. Kennedy, Speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962
The 1,620-acre (6.6 km2) facility was officially opened for business in September 1963.
Mission Control Center
Mission Operations Control Room 2 at the conclusion of
In 1961, as plans for
Project Gemini began, it became increasingly clear that the
Mercury Control Center located at the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch center would become inadequate to control missions with maneuverable spacecraft such as Gemini and Apollo.
Christopher Kraft and three other
flight controllers began studying what was needed for an improved control center, and directed a study contract awarded to
Philco’s Western Development Laboratory. Philco bid on, and won the contract to build the electronic equipment for the new Mission Control Center, which would be located in Building 30 of MSC rather than Canaveral or the
Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Construction began in 1963.
The new center had two Mission Operations Control Rooms, allowing training and preparation for a later mission to be carried out while a live mission is in progress. It was brought online for testing purposes during the unmanned
Gemini 2 flight in January 1965 and the first manned Gemini flight,
Gemini 3 in March 1965, though the Mercury Control Center still retained primary responsibility for control of these flights. It became fully operational for the flight of
Gemini 4 the following June, and has been the primary flight control center for all subsequent U.S.
manned space missions from Project Gemini forward.
NASA named the center the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center on April 14, 2011.
In addition to housing NASA's astronaut operations, JSC is also the site of the former
Lunar Receiving Laboratory, where the first astronauts returning from the
quarantined, and where the majority of
lunar samples are stored. The center's Landing and Recovery Division operated
MV Retriever in the Gulf of Mexico for Gemini and Apollo astronauts to practice water egress after
On February 19, 1973, after Johnson's death, President
Richard Nixon signed into law a Senate resolution renaming the Manned Spacecraft Center in honor of Johnson, who as
Senate Majority Leader had sponsored the
1958 legislation which created NASA. Dedication ceremonies under the new name were held on August 27 of that year.
One of the artifacts displayed at Johnson Space Center is the
Saturn V rocket. It is whole, except for the ring between the
S-IC and S-II stages, and the fairing between the S-II and
S-IVB stages, and made of actual surplus flight-ready articles. It also has real (though incomplete)
Apollo command and service modules, intended to fly in the
canceled Apollo 19 mission.
Space Shuttle program
||This section may lend
undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, or controversies. (December 2013)
In the wake of the January 28, 1986
Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, President
Ronald Reagan and First Lady
Nancy Reagan traveled to JSC on January 31 to speak at a memorial service honoring the astronauts. It was attended by 6,000 NASA employees and 4,000 guests, as well as by the families of the crew. During the ceremony, an Air Force band led the singing of "God Bless America" as NASA
T-38 Talon supersonic jets flew directly over the scene in the traditional
missing-man formation. All activities were broadcast live by the national television and radio networks.
A similar memorial service was held at the Johnson Space Center on February 4, 2003, for the astronauts who perished in the
Space Shuttle Columbia disaster three days before, which was attended by President
George W. Bush and First Lady
Laura Bush. Although that service was broadcast live by the national television and radio networks, it was geared mainly to NASA employees and the families of the astronauts. A second service for the nation was led by Vice-President
Dick Cheney and his wife
Washington National Cathedral two days later.
On September 13, 2008,
Hurricane Ike hit
Galveston as a Category 2 hurricane and caused minor damage to the Mission Control Center and other buildings at JSC.
 The storm damaged the roofs of several hangars for the
T-38 Talons at Ellington Field.