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USRA has a storied heritage that traces back to the formation of the Lunar Science Institute by the National Academy of Sciences in 1968 at the height of the Apollo program.


James Webb (1906-1992), the second NASA Administrator, understood and supported the university-oriented national R&D policy of the United States. In fact, Webb looked upon universities as the principal vehicles for building a "Space Age America."

Webb knew that the first opportunity to engage university faculty and students with NASA in a major way would be in the analysis of lunar samples returned to Earth during the Apollo exploration of the Moon, but he anticipated that in the coming Space Age, NASA would need the involvement of universities in a wide variety of research and technology disciplines. Webb's desire was to strengthen universities, but he was concerned that an intensive involvement of university researchers in large, complicated NASA missions might weaken their ability to carry out their campus responsibilities of teaching and training graduate students.

With these considerations in mind, in the fall of 1967 Webb turned to Frederick Seitz (1911-2008), the President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), for help. The immediate need was the involvement of university scientists in the analysis of rock and soil samples that would soon be returned from the surface of the Moon, and Webb suggested that a consortium of universities be formed to manage that task. Seitz agreed to help Webb, and he immediately began a thorough deliberative process that eventually engaged representatives of more than forty major research universities The planning process involved not only the formation of a consortium of universities that would assist NASA and the university research community with the analysis of lunar samples, but, more generally one that would meet Webb's vision of an organization that would a) help university researchers perform on large NASA missions without adversely impacting their university roles, and b) help NASA draw on university expertise to improve competencies of civil servant researchers at NASA Centers as the need arose.

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