Fact Check: Was NASA Founded to Explore the Ocean?

NASA is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government that is synonymous with space research.

The agency has been responsible for some of the greatest achievements in the history of space exploration and astronomy. But a rumor has emerged online that it was initially founded to explore the Earth's oceans.

The Claim

The claim was made in a TikTok video posted to the platform by an account known as "memes_to_click," which has nearly 6,000 followers.

In the video, black and white video footage of a submarine is accompanied by text and narration from an unidentified individual who says: "NASA's original mission was searching the oceans. They will not tell us what they found, but their plans abruptly switched to getting us off this planet."

At the time of writing, the video had been viewed more than 770,000 times while gaining more than 129,000 likes. It had also been shared more than 4,500 times.

While many of the comments appeared to be critical of the content in the video, Google searches for "was NASA made to explore the ocean" spiked after the video was published.

The Facts

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was opened in 1958, built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was set up to conduct research in the field of aeronautics—i.e. science related to the operation of aircraft—and other government organizations, according to nasa.gov.

NASA was established in the midst of the Cold War in response to early Soviet space achievements, such as the launch Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957—the Earth's first artificial satellite.

On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, formally bringing the agency into existence. Section 102 of the act included the following objectives, and more, for the new agency, according to history.nasa.gov.

  1. The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
  2. The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
  3. The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space;
  4. The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes;
  5. The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.

The goals have changed little over the course of NASA's history, despite the Space Act having been amended several times since 1958.

The Ruling

False

There is no evidence to suggest that NASA was founded to explore the oceans.

The NASA logo
Painters refurbish the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 29, 2020. A rumor has been circulating online that NASA was founded to explore the Earth's oceans. GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images