On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first satellite, a beach-ball–sized metal sphere called Sputnik.

During its three-week orbit, the satellite both captivated and terrified the American public.

In response, the United States organized a new government agency—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA—and tasked it with researching flight inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The space race had officially begun.

When NASA put out the call for talented engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and more, North Carolinians—many of whom had received their training at hallowed state institutions like UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and UNC Greensboro—came forward in droves.

They moved, sometimes far from their families and hometowns, to NASA facilities in Texas, Florida, and Virginia with one unifying goal in mind: to put a man on the Moon.