Today is Sally Ride Day, a unique holiday celebrating the birth of the first American woman to travel to space, and the perfect day to explore Maryland’s connection to space exploration through NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

NASA’s first space flight center was established on May 1, 1959 as the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland in Prince George’s County, and is now home to a major concentration of scientists and engineers, and the currently-under-construction James Webb Space Telescope.

GSFC was established as a result of President Eisenhower’s signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When plans to build GSFC were finalized, Maryland Senator J. Glenn Beall announced to the press that the new “outer space agency,” today known as NASA, was building a laboratory and plant in Greenbelt.  Original plans called for the laboratory to be named Beltsville Space Center, but the name was changed before the project was completed in order to honor the legacy of the father of modern rocketry, Dr. Robert H. Goddard.

GSFC began with 157 employees, who all worked at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC until the construction of GSFC was completed in 1961. The opening day ceremony of the Goddard facility on March 16, 1961 is pictured above.

For the past 57 years, GSFC has become the nation’s largest organization of scientists, engineers, and technologists who all work on new technologies, instruments, and spacecraft that aid in the study of our Earth, sun, and universe. On any given day, just outside of Washington DC, “Goddard Scientists stare into the sun, grind up meteorites for signs of life’s building blocks, look into the farthest reaches of space, and untangle the mysteries of our own changing world.” It is incredible that these interactions with the universe take place right here in the Old Line State.


The Goddard Space Flight Center’s Visitors Center is only 30 minutes from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis. Visit GSFC, where the array of fascinating permanent exhibits includes the Goddard Rocket Garden and Astrobiology Walk, the Ozone Garden, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Solarium. A trip to Goddard is an opportunity to not only learn about outer space, but also an opportunity to experience Maryland’s unique connection to the history of space exploration and American scientific innovation.

Our Preservation Month posts were written and prepared by Rachel Rettaliata, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Rachel’s work with us focuses on communications and advocacy. She is a Fulbright Scholar, and will be attending the historic preservation program at the University of Maryland this fall. Learn more about Rachel and our intern program here: