The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created with a national sense of urgency in February 1958 amidst one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Cold War and the already-accelerating pace of technology.
In the months preceding the official authorization for the agency's creation, Department of Defense Directive Number 5105.15, the Soviet Union had launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, and the world's second satellite, two months after Sputnik 1, resulted in a spectacular fiery failure. Finally, at the end of January 1958, a stunned United States became the second nation to place an object in orbit when it successfully launched the Explorer 1 satellite.
Out of this traumatic experience of technological surprise in the first moments of the Space Age, U.S. leadership created DARPA, initially with the shorter name Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). In the nearly 60 years since it was established, DARPA has owned the critical mission of keeping the United States out front when it comes to cultivating breakthrough technologies for national security rather than in a position of catching up to strategically important innovations and achievements of others.
With no research and development facilities of its own, DARPA has become known as a laboratory and incubator of innovation by providing thought leadership, community-building frameworks, technology challenges, research management, funding, and other cultural and infrastructural support elements that it takes to usher transformative ideas toward consequential new realities.