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Presidential Science Advisors, James Killian, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958

MIT presidents, faculty, and alumni have served in many important roles aiding governments around the world, but particularly significant is the role many have played as U.S. presidential science advisors. Vannevar Bush, advisor to Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, was the first; MIT alumnus John Holdren, advisor to Barack Obama is the most recent. Dwight Eisenhower turned to MIT President James R. Killian at a particularly tense time following the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in 1957. Killian had given serious thought to the role of science advice at the highest levels of government for many years. In 1955, he spoke of it in a special lecture series on national security policy at Harvard. As Eisenhower’s Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, he had the opportunity to put his ideas into action. Killian oversaw the creation of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the nation’s missile programs, and a limited nuclear test ban treaty.

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