USRA has a storied heritage that traces back to the formation of the Lunar Science Institute by the National Academy of Sciences in 1968 at the height of the Apollo program.
In 1966, the NASA Administrator approached the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) with the idea of forming a national consortium to take over the management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) located at Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas. The LRL had been developed a few years earlier to contain and process for study the lunar samples brought back from the Apollo moon landing missions.
The opportunity was initially offered to the precursor of USRA, the Universities Research Association (URA), which had recently been created to operate the National Accelerator Laboratory (now the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or FermiLab). Due to budget concerns over operation of the NAL, however, URA did not wish to take on responsibility for another large research facility at that time. To satisfy its immediate needs, NASA took over the management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory but left open the possibility of wider participation from the academic community.