The forerunner of the DSN was established in January, 1958, when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL – then under contract to the U.S. Army – deployed portable radio tracking stations in Nigeria, Singapore, and California. That month, when the Army successfully launched Explorer 1, the first successful U.S. satellite, these stations received telemetry and helped mission controllers plot the spacecraft’s orbit. NASA was officially established in October of that year to consolidate the separately developing space-exploration programs of the Army, Navy and Air Force into one civilian organization.

On December 3, 1958, JPL was transferred from the Army to NASA and given responsibility for the design and execution of lunar and planetary exploration programs using robotic spacecraft. Shortly afterward, NASA established the concept of the Deep Space Network as a separately managed and operated communications facility that would accommodate all deep space missions. This model would remove the need for each flight project to acquire and operate its own specialized space communications network. The Deep Space Network was given responsibility for its own research, development and operations in support of its users. Under this model, it has become a world leader in the development of deep space communications and navigation.