Founding and the Sputnik crisis
NASA was preceded by the "National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics" (NACA). NACA was a US federal agency founded on March 3, 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958 the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA was founded to compete with the Soviet Union in the space race. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a space race between the US and the Soviet Union - now called Russia. The Soviets started first launching Sputnik 1, the first object made by people to go into orbit, in October 1957. The Americans were worried by this. It caused a crisis known as the Sputnik Crisis as the Americans feared the Russians might start building weapons in space. This all happened at a time called the Cold War when the USA and the Soviet Union were always very close to war.