The foundation for the DEVELOP Program began in the summer of 1998 when three student interns at the Langley Research Center co-authored a research paper titled The Practical Applications of Remote Sensing (Bauer et al., 1998). Concurrently, the Digital Earth Initiative, a federal interagency project dedicated to furthering humans' understanding of the planet, initiated an effort to increase public access to federal information about the Earth and the environment. With the shared focus of these two ventures, a proposal was submitted to combine the mission of NASA's Digital Earth Initiative and the Langley students' paper. This set the stage for the creation of a new student internship program within NASA, and in 1999 the "Digital Earth Virtual Environment Learning Outreach Project" (DEVELOP) was officially formed. The next year when the Digital Earth Initiative ended, DEVELOP continued within NASA but dropped the acronym.
The early success of DEVELOP was due to the alignment of projects with the issues facing local and regional communities. DEVELOP gradually expanded from one office at Langley Research Center into a nationwide program that includes over 350 participants each year at fifteen nodes. Today, the National Program Office (DEVELOP's Headquarters) is hosted at Langley, and oversees activity at all of DEVELOP's nodes. Since inception, over 3,200 participant positions have been provided globally, and the DEVELOP Program proactively looks for new opportunities to reach new communities and demonstrate the benefits of NASA's Earth Science research.