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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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By design, people at DARPA tend to have short tenures. While program managers, office directors, deputy office directors, directors and deputy directors number around 120 in any given year, the total number of people who have done a 3- to 5-year turn at DARPA is large. The DARPA family extends to the even larger number of administrative professionals and contractors who support DARPA’s mission. The vast majority of these alumni refer to their tenure at DARPA as an enormously enriching and life-changing experience, so it is no surprise that many continue to care about and support DARPA’s mission years after they leave.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Hubble Telescope takes the clearest images of the universe and transmits these to Earth via its antennas. From 1978 to 1980 DARPA funded the design, fabrication, delivery and installation of two antenna booms for the Hubble Space Telescope to demonstrate the advantages of metal matrix composites.
Congress has played a vital role in DARPA's success over many years. DARPA could not fulfill its mission of developing breakthrough technologies for national security without consistent bipartisan support from Congress. DARPA's congressional authorizers and appropriators sit on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Appropriations Committees. Transcripts of testimony provided to these and other committees and subcommittees appear below.

The M16 Assault Rifle is the standard-issue shoulder weapon in the U.S. military. Designed to fire small, high-velocity rounds (5.56 mm caliber vs. 7.62 mm), the weapon is relatively small and light, thereby significantly decreasing combat load. The M16 is based on a design (the Colt AR-15) that had already been rejected by the Chief of Staff of the Army in favor of the heavier 7.62 mm M14. Colt brought the weapon to DARPA in 1962. Through Project AGILE, DARPA purchased 1,000 AR-15s and issued them to combat troops in Southeast Asia for field trials, to prove that the high-velocity 5.56 mm round had satisfactory performance.


With the goal of developing an astronomical-quality observatory to obtain precise measurements and images of satellites and payloads reentering the atmosphere from space and other space objects, the Agency initiated the ARPA Midcourse Optical Station (AMOS) program. By 1969, the quality and potential of AMOS had been demonstrated, and a second phase began to measure properties of reentry bodies at the facility under the Advanced Ballistic Reentry System Project. In the late 1970s, successful space object measurements continued in the infrared and visible ranges, and laser illumination and ranging were initiated.