By Frank Seitzen
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Bold goals - President George W. Bush announced new space exploration goals for the agency at NASA Headquarters on Jan. 14, 2004.
When a city’s name is one of the first words spoken on the surface of another world, the link between that city and NASA through its Johnson Space Center is rather obvious. And as the site of the memorable vista of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle launches, Florida’s Space Coast has a clear connection to NASA and its Kennedy Space Center as well.
But when many people think about NASA, places like Moffett Field or Hancock County, Miss., may not immediately come to mind. Yet these locations are also home to vital parts of NASA.
Spread out from coast to coast, NASA’s centers and facilities are as diverse as the many different elements of the agency’s missions. That’s no coincidence – each location is home to different areas of expertise, supporting different elements of those missions.
Today, for example, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is conducting rocket engine testing in support of NASA’s exploration mission. At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, scientists are reviewing information being sent back to Earth from distant reaches of the solar system, supporting the space science mission. Expertise in supercomputing and the search for life beyond Earth is a hallmark of the Ames Research Center in California. Satellites managed by Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland provide atmospheric data vital to NASA’s Earth science research. Ideas for advanced space propulsion are tested at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio. Langley Research Center in Virginia, America’s first civilian aeronautics research laboratory, plays a key role in space transportation for small payloads and satellites. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama develops rockets, spacecraft and instruments for space exploration and scientific discovery. And new remotely piloted aircraft recently delivered to Dryden Flight Research Center in California will not only support the aeronautics research mission, but will also serve as scientific research platforms.
NASA’s 10 major centers, plus its headquarters in Washington, D.C., are joined by eight smaller facilities -- Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City), Independent Verification & Validation Facility (West Virginia), Michoud Assembly Facility (New Orleans), NASA Shared Services Center (Mississippi), Plum Brook Station (Ohio), Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia), White Sands Test Facility (New Mexico) and Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (California).
As NASA undertakes the monumental task of returning humans to the moon and then exploring farther into the solar system, the agency will draw from all of these diverse areas of expertise. Every one of NASA’s centers has been assigned duties in the development of the new architecture that will return humans to the moon. Each center also has a vital task relating to establishing a productive ongoing presence there once that return is accomplished.
An exciting future awaits, and it will take all of NASA, working together, to make it happen.
NASA Headquarters (Washington, D.C.)
NASA Headquarters, located a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building, is the leadership nerve center for the agency’s activities.
Headquarters management has steered U.S. civil space and aeronautics policy throughout the agency’s history, setting in motion some of the most far-reaching and history-making events in the Space Age. First located in the Dolly Madison House a stone’s throw from the White House, NASA Headquarters has seen its share of history, including visits from Presidents Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. In popular literature, the current headquarters building is the setting for intrigue in Dan Brown’s novel “Deception Point.”
Under the agency’s first two administrators, T. Keith Glennan and James E. Webb, the headquarters leadership team made the critical decisions to move forward quickly on America’s man in space program and then assemble the massive government-industry-university partnership required for the Apollo Program. At headquarters, NASA’s leaders also participated in the government’s decision to allow NASA’s activities, including its successes and failures, to be broadcast in real time. This commitment fit with the mandate of the 1958 Space Act for the agency to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.”
Under Webb’s leadership, headquarters staff members helped draft the 1967 United Nations Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and dealt forthrightly with addressing the agency’s failings after the tragic Apollo 1 fire.
As NASA was recovering from the Apollo 1 tragedy, the Central Intelligence Agency told agency officials in August 1968 that the Soviet Union might be preparing for a manned lunar flyby mission. These reports prompted bold action. NASA managers from around the country met at headquarters to consider sending the second Apollo flight around the moon. Apollo 8 (Dec. 1968) marked the first time astronauts rode aboard the Saturn V, as well as the first time humans ever left Earth orbit. The mission was a huge success and global sensation, leading the way for the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission of July 1969.
As the 1970s began, a new relationship was forged between the two space powers when NASA officials, led by George Low, negotiated an agreement with their Soviet counterparts to conduct the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July 1975. More recently, years of patient negotiations directed by Headquarters’ External Affairs office has led to the 15-nation International Space Station partnership. These negotiations and subsequent efforts to manage the partnership have carefully defined each partner’s contributions and responsibilities, established useful technical compatibility standards, and built a foundation for future international space cooperation.
On Jan. 14, 2004, NASA Headquarters was the site of an announcement that established an exciting new direction for space exploration for decades to come. That day, President George W. Bush spoke in the Headquarters’ James Webb auditorium and proposed that NASA adopt the new goals of returning humans to the moon, this time to stay for months at a time, and eventually to send pioneering explorers to Mars and beyond. Charged with implementing these objectives is the NASA Headquarters’ leadership team, headed by Administrator Dr. Michael D. Griffin. NASA’s 11th administrator, Griffin previously served the agency as chief engineer and associate administrator for Exploration. More recently, he was Space Department Head at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
NASA’s Deputy Administrator is Shana Dale, who oversees the day-to-day work of NASA’s functional offices, such as the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Office of General Counsel, and Strategic Communications. Before coming to NASA, Dale was deputy director for Homeland and National Security for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. NASA’s Associate Administrator is Chris Scolese, formerly the agency’s chief engineer.
NASA Headquarters is organized into four Mission Directorates: Aeronautics Research (Associate Administrator Dr. Jaiwon Shin), Exploration Systems (AA Dr. Richard J. Gilbrech), Science (AA Dr. Alan Stern) and Space Operations (AA William Gerstenmaier). These officials have direct oversight of field center performance in implementing NASA policies and programs.
In order to effectively carry out the nation’s civil aeronautics and space policies, headquarters maintains close relationships with the White House and other Executive Branch offices (e.g. Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget). Headquarters through its Office of External Relations also works regularly with other U.S. government agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, and Transportation. The headquarters’ Legislative Affairs staff interfaces with members of Congress and their staffs, the 50 state governors and other local officials. The headquarters’ Education team works with museums, universities and K-12 schools to promote excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Press briefings and media information requests are handled by the headquarters Public Affairs staff.
Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, Calif.)
FutureFlight Central - Opened Dec. 13, 1999, at the Ames Research Center, the world’s first full-scale virtual airport control tower helps airlines and airports improve the public’s flying experience.
NASA’s Ames Research Center is situated in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, near the high-tech companies, entrepreneurial ventures, universities and other laboratories that fuel the region’s reputation for technology development and research. It’s a fitting location for Ames, a NASA leader in such mission-enabling, cutting-edge work.
Named for Joseph S. Ames, a founding member and longtime chairman (1919-1939) of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the center is located at Moffett Federal Airfield, a former naval air base. Following its founding in 1939 as the second NACA laboratory, Ames hosted the worlds’ greatest collection of wind tunnels. In 1958, Ames became part of the NASA family. Today, the center operates more than $3 billion in capital equipment and is home to 2,300 workers. The center’s current director is Dr. Simon P. “Pete” Worden (Brig. Gen., USAF Ret).
Ames personnel work on everything from mission design, to fundamental research, to developing critical new technologies, and analyzing scientific data. Ames is a widely recognized leader in all types of information technology, including supercomputing, modeling, networking and intelligent computer systems. Ames scientists are pioneering new autonomous systems for robotic exploration and human space missions. Ames also is at the forefront of research into new materials that will reduce spacecraft weight and increase carrying capacity, and leads in development of advanced thermal protection systems for space transportation and planetary-entry missions.
Ames is a NASA force in space biology, biotechnology and human factors work. For more than 30 years the center has flown payloads on a variety of spacecraft to better understand how living organisms respond to microgravity and radiation. Today, Ames is hard at work developing capabilities to expand human life into the universe. Through its work in astrobiology, the center seeks greater understanding of the origins and evolution of life. Ames assets, such as the Kepler telescope to be launched in 2009, support NASA’s search for habitable environments outside our planet. Drawing on its expertise in infrared astronomy and planetary science, the center is also responsible for the scientific aspects of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) astronomy aircraft. SOFIA helps astronomers study how the elements of the universe, from stars to planets to organic molecules, are distributed among the cosmos.
In collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, Ames helps design air traffic control systems to make commercial aviation safer and more efficient. The center is redefining basic concepts of air operations and is developing technologies to boost the capacity of the nation’s air transportation system.
For the Constellation Program’s effort to build spacecraft and launch and surface support systems for a new generation of explorers, Ames will help prepare technologies for both human flights to the moon and the robotic precursors that will pave the way.Ames is leading the development of the heat shield that will protect crews aboard the Orion crew exploration vehicle. For this, NASA is drawing on Ames’ rich heritage in developing systems for entry into Earth’s and other planets’ atmospheres, such as the thermal protection system for the planned Mars Science Laboratory. Other Ames responsibilities for Orion include managing flight software development and support for guidance, space navigation and control systems.
For Ares I, the first new human launch vehicle to be designed in decades, Ames engineers are helping develop the rocket’s health monitoring system, its fault detection software and vehicle verification systems. Drawing on its experience in computational fluid dynamics, Ames is conducting simulations of the Ares ascent to help identify the best path for the rocket to fly on its way into space. Using its human factors experience, Ames will provide equipment and advanced simulators for flight controllers and develop parts of the Constellation training program.
Turning to robotic missions, Ames’ small-satellite projects office is designing probes to gather detailed data about the moon, including the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). LCROSS will smash into one of the moon’s polar regions to detect and measure water in the lunar soil, much like the hammers used by the ‘49ers and early prospectors to search for precious metals.
Dryden Flight Research Center (Edwards, Calif.)
The Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center, located in California’s Mojave Desert beneath the spacious skies that gave America its first aviation heroes with the “right stuff,” is recognized as the premier fight research and test organization for the validation of high-risk, pioneering aerospace technology, space exploration concepts and the conduct of science mission observations.
The center is named for the aeronautical scientist who served as NACA’s director from 1947-1958 and then served as NASA’s deputy administrator from 1958 until his death in 1965. The center’s current director is Kevin L. Petersen.
The center originated in 1946, when researchers from the NACA Langley Aeronautical Memorial Laboratory came to Muroc Army Air Base, now known as Edwards Air Force Base, to support the first X-1 rocket plane supersonic flights. Dryden is located at Edwards adjacent to Rogers Dry Lake, which at 44 square miles is the largest dry lakebed in the world. It provides an unrivaled omni-directional airfield in addition to Edwards’ paved runways.
Dryden flies a variety of research aircraft and has participated in many important aerospace achievements. These include supersonic and hypersonic flight, digital fly-by-wire control systems, supercritical wings, and the flight tests and landings of more than 50 space shuttle missions. Dryden also was the location of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle test flights, flights of the X-15 rocket plane and lifting body flights during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. The center conducts flight tests to support aeronautics research programs and contributes to aeronautical technologies, aviation safety, space transportation, and Earth and space science missions. Current Dryden projects include:
Into the blue - The Dryden Flight Research Center conducted the X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft’s first flight on July 20, 2007.
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Dryden manages development and flight tests of this colossal airborne observatory. SOFIA complements the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories. It carries a 40,000-pound infrared telescope in a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that promises to reveal information about the cosmos unattainable from ground-based infrared telescopes.
Constellation Program. Dryden manages the abort flight tests for the Orion crew exploration vehicle (CEV). This effort includes two pad abort tests, simulating aborts during a launch-pad emergency, and four ascent aborts, simulating aborts during first-stage flight of the Orion spacecraft. Dryden is managing the development of the CEV flight-test articles and the abort-test booster, which will launch the flight-test article for the ascent abort tests. Dryden also has responsibility for parachute drop tests of the Orion recovery systems. Dryden engineers will check out instrumentation for the Orion/Ares I rocket launch site, and the center’s talent pool will help design the Orion re-entry and landing pathways for its return from space.
X-48B Blended Wing Body. This radical, remotely piloted sub-scale technology demonstrator points to a future of efficient aircraft. Dryden’s role in X-48 flight tests, with designer Boeing and Cranfield Aerospace Ltd., of Bedford, England, exemplifies the center’s collaborations with industry.
Intelligent Flight Control Systems. Dryden pioneered the application of “self-learning” software in aircraft flight control computers aboard a highly modified NF-15 aircraft. In the future this technology could enable damaged aircraft to reconfigure their flight control systems for safe flight in the face of otherwise catastrophic damage.
X-43A. This unpiloted research aircraft became the first scramjet-powered aircraft to fly. Scramjet engines could increase the payload for future hypersonic vehicles by using oxygen from the atmosphere instead of carrying it onboard as an oxidizer. A milestone was achieved in March 2004, when an X-43A test craft flew at 5,000 mph for 11 seconds, setting a world record for air-breathing propulsion. The record was broken the following November when an X-43A flew at nearly Mach 10, almost 7,000 mph.
Providing support for the scientific community, Dryden collects information on special atmospheric sampling, environmental modeling and sensor testing missions worldwide, using two high-altitude ER-2 aircraft, derived from the U2 reconnaissance plane. Also, Dryden operates a modified DC-8 jetliner as an airborne laboratory for global environmental surveys.
Dryden has supported the space shuttle program since the center hosted the approach-and-landing tests of the prototype shuttle Enterprise in 1977, released from the back of its 747 carrier. Leading shuttle operations for the approach and landing tests was Isaac “Ike” Gillam, later Dryden’s director from 1978-1981. Gillam was NASA’s first African-American center director. Today, when shuttles land at Edwards Air Force Base, they are prepared at Dryden for ferrying to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on top of one of NASA’s two modified Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft.
Dryden researchers and specially trained pilots are pioneering the use of remotely piloted aircraft fitted with environmental sensors that can aid in everything from wildfire detection to climatology. Ikhana, a scientifically instrumented Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle, is used by Dryden researchers to conduct Earth science missions. Dryden also tests advanced aeronautics, propulsion and aircraft flight control technologies for future high-altitude, remotely piloted, aircraft.
Special facilities at the center include a high-temperature laboratory capable of replicating friction-induced heat on aircraft, a lab for aircraft flight instrumentation design and a data analysis facility to process flight research data. Sophisticated test range facilities enable the capture of precise data from flight research missions. Dryden’s Research Aircraft Integration Facility, unique to NASA, tests aircraft flight controls, avionics and other electronic systems through advanced simulators that can be integrated with the research aircraft.
The center also recently established the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. Located adjacent to the runways and taxiways of Air Force Plant 42, this former aircraft production plant has become home to several of Dryden’s fleet of science aircraft, including SOFIA and the DC-8 airborne laboratory. They will be joined in the near future by Dryden’s two ER-2s and a Gulfstream-III. The facility incorporates 210,000 square feet of hangar space with an equivalent amount of space devoted to laboratories, maintenance shops, office space and related functions.
More than 1,000 federal and contractor employees work at the center in a high desert environment as spectacular as it is Spartan. They take pride in flying the future first.
Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field (Cleveland, Ohio)
Zero-G Locomotion - Astronaut Don Pettit visited NASA Glenn’s Exercise Countermeasures Laboratory to test the Enhanced Zero-gravity Locomotion Simulator (eZLS), which was designed and built by engineers at Glenn and the Cleveland Clinic to simulate how astronauts exercise during space travel.
With its long history in aircraft propulsion and its modern involvement in space research, it is only fitting that NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field would have a name that honors both an astronaut and a leader in aeronautics.
Located adjacent to Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport, the center is named in honor of John H. Glenn, the former astronaut and U.S. Senator from Ohio who became the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, and George W. Lewis, former NACA director of Aeronautical Research. The center’s 325 acres are home to 150 buildings and structures, which include wind tunnels, engine test facilities, microgravity research facilities, space communication facilities, test laboratories and engineering offices. Glenn also manages the 6,400-acre Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio. The center conducts research in aeronautics technology and develops spaceflight systems. More than 3,100 federal employees and contractors work at Lewis Field and Plum Brook Station. The center’s current director is Dr. Woodrow Whitlow, Jr.
Following the establishment of the Langley and Ames Research Centers, construction of what was originally NACA’s Aircraft Engine Research laboratory began in 1941. In 1948, the facility was named in honor of Lewis and it was incorporated into NASA 10 years later. Glenn’s name was added to the center’s title on March 1, 1999.
Historically, Glenn has led research on liquid hydrogen rocket engines and stages, such as the Centaur cryogenic upper stage used on the Atlas and Titan rockets for high-energy missions to the moon and planets. It has pioneered and tested advanced designs of ion and electric engines and thrusters, including the highly successful primary propulsion system for the Deep Space 1 mission. The electrical power system developed for use on the International Space Station also was a product of Glenn research, design and analysis.
On-going aircraft propulsion research at Glenn has contributed to reducing pollution in flight and making aircraft engines safe and environmentally sound. In 1987, the center and the NASA/industry advanced turboprop team were awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy for the development of a new fuel-efficient turboprop propulsion system. The trophy, awarded annually for outstanding American aeronautics and astronautics achievements, recognizes key advances in the performance, efficiency or safety of air and space vehicles. In aeronautics safety research, one of the busiest facilities at Glenn is the icing research tunnel, which is used to continuously improve the flight safety of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, to test ice accumulation on the wings and bodies of airplanes and to verify the results with flight research.
Glenn has two large supersonic propulsion wind tunnels: the 8- by 6-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel and the Abe Silverstein 10- by 10-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel. The 8x6, NASA’s only transonic propulsion wind tunnel, has been actively involved in research testing since 1948. Aircraft such as the Advanced Turboprop, the National Aerospace Plane, the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the Joint Strike Fighter and the High-Speed Civil Transport were tested in this facility. In 1956, under the leadership of Silverstein and Eugene Wasliewski, the 10- by 10-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel was brought on line. The facility was re-named for Silverstein in 1994. The tunnel has made valuable contributions to the advancement of fundamental supersonic propulsion technology, the development of Atlas-Centaur, Saturn and Atlas-Agena class launch vehicles, and vehicle-focused research programs, including the High-Speed Civil Transport, the National Aerospace Plane and the Joint Strike Fighter.
Glenn has a long history of developing state-of-the-art communications technologies. In 1988 the center was awarded an Emmy for developing a high-efficiency traveling-wave tube used in the Communications Technology Satellite, which was launched in 1976. The tube allowed the satellite to operate in the Ku-band and at high power levels. As a result, smaller, less-expensive ground receivers could be used and television could be transmitted to remote areas of the world, creating a reliable global communications network. In September 1993, the Advanced Communication Technology Satellite was launched to pave the way for the satellite industry to utilize the Ka-band spectrum and to demonstrate advanced communication technologies and services. The Advanced Communications Technology Satellite was an operational space-based testbed used to validate the use of all-digital, high-bandwidth, on-demand, integrated multimedia services. Glenn’s communications expertise continues to contribute to the aerospace industry and will be applied to future exploration missions.
Glenn is NASA’s primary center for work in the fields of fluid, combustion and other flow systems. Glenn laboratories are also used for testing materials and structures for use in both atmospheric flight and space. In the 1990s, nearly every shuttle flight carried an experiment development by Glenn scientists. This research continues aboard the International Space Station.
Looking forward, NASA has assigned Glenn the role of managing the service module and spacecraft adapter, both of which are elements of the new Orion crew exploration vehicle. The service module will be used to maneuver Orion while in orbit, to provide electrical power using solar arrays for both it and the crew module housing the astronauts, and to vent thermal energy generated aboard Orion. Glenn will have engineering and management oversight of Lockheed Martin, the Orion prime contractor, and will perform independent verification and validation activities.
Glenn engineers will also work with Boeing, the production contractor of the Ares I crew launch vehicle rocket upper stage, applying the center’s previous experience from the Centaur program in large liquid cryogenic engines and stages. Glenn will have lead center roles in the Ares I upper stage thrust vector control system, the stage’s electrical power and distribution system, developmental flight instrumentation system and fuel leak detection sensor system. In support of the Ares I-X flight, Glenn is responsible for the design, fabrication and testing of the upper stage mass simulator. This flight hardware is being built in-house and tested at Glenn facilities. Glenn is supporting other elements of the Constellation Program as they emerge, and will offer conceptual designs of new space vehicle systems and future capabilities, all building on the center’s aeronautics and space propulsion heritage.
Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.)
Big equipment - A Launch Phase Simulator or High Capacity Centrifuge at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Located just outside of Washington, D.C., NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has a rather impressive mandate -- to better understand the entire universe.
Named for the father of modern rocketry, Robert H. Goddard, the center was created on May 1, 1959 and is home to more than 8,000 scientists, engineers and researchers engaged in understanding Earth science, the solar system and the universe beyond. The center’s current director is Dr. Edward J. Weiler. In a book celebrating Goddard’s 40th anniversary, Lane E. Wallace wrote, “Engineers and scientists did not go to work for Goddard or NASA for money. They went to work there because they were fired up with excitement over the prospect of exploring a frontier no human had entered before.”
Goddard has contributed to more than 287 missions in a period of 48 years, and has built instruments for spacecraft that have studied every planet in our solar system as well as other celestial bodies, including Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus. Goddard scientists have designed and managed some of NASA’s most complex scientific spacecraft that have flown millions of miles in Earth orbit and beyond. These include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Cosmic Background Explorer (which led to a Nobel Prize in physics for its principal investigator, John C. Mather) and the Earth Observing System, which monitors Earth’s changing climate. Goddard is responsible for more than 30 other spacecraft that gather data about Earth’s atmosphere, the environment between Earth and the sun, and make deep space observations that help to expand knowledge about the formation and evolution of galaxies. Goddard’s scientific satellite investigations are supplemented by data gathered from suborbital flights, ground-based observatories and other laboratory instruments in the U.S. and abroad.
Goddard’s Greenbelt campus contains more than 50 buildings and research laboratories. The center also operates and manages the Wallops Flight Facility, a launch range located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Also under Goddard’s umbrella are the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a renowned center for climate research, and the Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia, an organization responsible for independently assuring the safety of mission critical computer software. The Goddard center also has responsibility for NASA’s spaceflight tracking and data acquisition networks, including the White Sands Complex located near Las Cruces, N.M. Operating at Goddard are two functionally identical satellite ground terminals, which ensure uninterrupted communications between various ground stations, NASA’s orbiting fleet of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, customer spacecraft and the computer systems that support such spacecraft. Goddard also manages a suite of ground stations in other locations around the globe for tracking, commanding and acquiring data from NASA spacecraft. The center is tasked with developing ways to archive and distribute the scientific data accumulated from the many missions it supports.
Demonstrating NASA’s commitment to external partnerships, Goddard has more than 40 years of experience managing the development of satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to forecast severe weather and track hurricanes. The center has built and operated more research satellites dedicated to the study of our home planet than any other institution in the world and also develops instruments that are flown aboard spacecraft operated by other nations and other federal agencies.
Laboratories that develop sophisticated scientific instruments flown aboard satellites are a key Goddard feature. Vacuum chambers, shaker tables, acoustic test cells and a High Capacity Centrifuge allow satellite structures to be subjected to environmental conditions that mimic those encountered in actual spaceflight. Satellite Control Centers are distributed across the center to track and maintain the spacecraft and instruments for 43 ongoing satellite missions.
A separate control center in Baltimore, Md., operates and monitors closely the Hubble Space Telescope and the health of its systems and equipment. Goddard scientists and engineers are currently working with teams of astronauts at the Johnson Space Center to plan the shuttle flight to maintain and repair the telescope in the late summer of 2008, including the specific tasks to be performed by spacewalking astronauts.
Goddard is also home to one of the largest clean rooms used in the space program. Clean rooms help keep fingerprints, dust and other airborne contaminants away from sensitive instruments. The facility uses five huge fans that provide pure air and an environment where large satellites undergo final test and assembly and space shuttle payloads can be prepared for shipment to launching sites. Tiny microelectronic devices are assembled and semiconductors are processed in a development laboratory at Goddard.
In support of NASA’s new exploration goals, Goddard will have a major role in the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, a necessary step in America’s return to the moon. Goddard is responsible for the development of LPRP’s first mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. LRO will provide critical information about the moon to help NASA select safe landing sites with compelling exploration and scientific features.
NASA’s Constellation Program will also rely on the Goddard team. Goddard will be responsible for Radio Frequency (RF) engineering, including communications and tracking, for Constellation. Goddard also provides support in the areas of radiation engineering, attitude control system modeling and systems engineering spanning communications, avionics, flight performance, safety and mission assurance.
Goddard also has been given responsibility for communications, tracking and data handling for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The center will develop and test Orion’s radio systems and antennas to be used during Earth-orbital and lunar flights.
Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City, N.Y.)
NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at Columbia University in New York City, is responsible for keeping track of the ever-changing world, or at least its climate.
GISS is a component laboratory of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Earth-Sun Exploration Division and a unit of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Begun in 1961 by Dr. Robert Jastrow to conduct basic research in space sciences in support of Goddard programs, GISS now emphasizes a broad study of global climate change. The facility’s current director is Dr. James E. Hansen.
At the institute, scientists across a wide range of disciplines study natural and human-caused changes in our environment that occur on various time scales from decades to millennia and that affect the habitability of our planet. The institute is noted for developing global models of atmospheric, land-surface and oceanic processes as a means of aiding prediction of our climate’s future evolution. Scientists at the institute use comprehensive global data sets, the study of past events on Earth such a paleoclimate change, and evolving knowledge about other planets’ climates to assist their work in this socially important research field.
Independent Verification and Validation Facility (Fairmont, W.Va.)
Mountaineer state moon - Full moon rising over the Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, W.Va.
Located in the heart of West Virginia’s emerging technology sector, the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility was established in 1993 as part of an agency-wide strategy to provide the highest achievable levels of safety and cost-effectiveness for NASA mission critical software.
The NASA IV&V Facility was founded under the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance as a direct result of recommendations made by the National Research Council and the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.
Since then, the facility has experienced continual growth in personnel, projects, capabilities and accomplishments, and has contributed tangibly to NASA’s improved safety record. Today, IV&V is an agency-level function delegated from Office of Safety and Mission Assurance to the Goddard Space Flight Center and managed by the facility. The facility’s primary business, software IV&V, is sponsored by OSMA as a software assurance technology.
The NASA IV&V Program strives to improve software safety, reliability and quality of NASA programs and missions through effective applications of systems and software IV&V methods, practices and techniques. The program’s vision is to be valued for its superior performance in independent software validation and verification, its ability to provide high-confidence safety and mission assurance of NASA software, its positive impact on the development of high quality software, and its expertise in software engineering.
The facility also manages and performs cutting-edge research in the field of software engineering primarily as it relates to software safety, quality, verification and validation testability, and reliability. OSMA has delegated to the facility the management of the OSMA Software Assurance Research Program, which is designed to address fundamental software assurance problems. The facility performs research designed to enable the program to keep pace with developing technologies and to find effective ways of performing IV&V and enhancing software engineering practices throughout NASA.
The men and women of the facility work hard to participate in the vitality of the surrounding communities, and to engage the citizens of “Rocket Boy” Homer Hickam’s home state in the exciting experiences and benefits offered by NASA’s pursuit of exploration and discovery. The facility’s workforce consists of 275 government and contractor employees. The current director of the facility is Dr. Butch Caffall.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, Calif.)
From Pasadena to Mars - Mobility testing for the Mars Exploration Rover 2 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
When the world sees new images of other planets and moons in our solar system, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has often played a role in obtaining those images. But the lab’s history began long before the Space Age.
In 1936, students at what was then the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, part of the California Institute of Technology under the direction of Theodore von Karman, began to conduct experiments with liquid-propellant rocket engines in the Arroyo Seco just outside of Pasadena. The U.S. Army subsequently helped Caltech acquire land in the Arroyo Seco to build testing facilities for rockets that lifted heavily laden airplanes into the air. During World War II, von Karman’s team developed solid- and liquid-propellant rocket boosters for the airplanes, and designed larger high-altitude rockets. The facility was reorganized in 1944 as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and focused on research and development tests of guided missiles and other explosives.
JPL was transferred from the U.S. Army to NASA in December 1958. As opposed to other NASA centers, JPL works for NASA under a contract, a practice that began in 1962. The laboratory is currently directed by Dr. Charles Elachi. JPL today comprises 177 acres next to the site of von Karman’s early rocket test facilities.
The oldest original building still standing at JPL is no. 11, first constructed for use in the rocket program. It is today the JPL Space Sciences Laboratory. Other original buildings used in the first rocket test programs remain in use. The Missions Operation building was built in 1958, along with the Low Temperature Laboratory and the High Vacuum Laboratory.
A series of laboratories used in space activities were constructed at JPL in the 1960s. These include the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, Control Systems Laboratory, and Celestial Simulator building. The Space Simulator Facility was added in 1962 and the Space Flight Operations Command Facility in 1963. The Earth Space Science, Physical Sciences, Spectroscopy Laboratory, Gyro Laboratory, Magnetic Laboratory, and Environmental Laboratories were added to the JPL roster between 1965 and 1967. The center’s main administration building (180) was completed in 1964.
Other new facilities include a Robotics Laboratory, added in 1971, an Isotope Thermoelectric Systems Lab in 1972, an Earth and Space Science Laboratory in 1985, a Microdevices Laboratory in 1986, and the Observational Instruments Lab in 1989. The newest buildings are the In-Situ Instruments Lab (2001) and the Optical Interferometery Development Lab (2002). JPL today comprises 177 acres next to the site of von Karman’s early rocket test facilities.
JPL has managed and operated nearly every major U.S. interplanetary exploration mission. These include the early Ranger and Surveyor lunar probes; the Mariner series of spacecraft that flew past Venus and Mars in the 1960s; the Viking landers, which made the first successful U.S. landings and explorations of the Martian surface in 1976; the historic Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, which explored the outer regions of the solar system, including the distant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The center also managed the hearty Mars Sojourner rover and the twin Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004 and are still roaming and exploring its surface; the orbiting Mars Surveyor and Mars Climate Orbiter, which have snapped hundreds of thousands of high-resolution images of the planet from orbit; the Magellan and Galileo space probes; and many more advanced planetary exploration spacecraft.
JPL is responsible for systems engineering in support of the Constellation Program. In addition, JPL will provide support to the Orion crew exploration vehicle thermal protection system advanced development project. Other JPL assignments in NASA’s effort to renew human exploration beyond low Earth orbit include Safety Reliability & Quality Assurance, support for integrated hazard analysis and risk assessment. The laboratory will co-lead systems engineering and integration software and avionics systems integration; support the development of Constellation vehicle requirements, trade studies, and process and tools offices; and support navigation and tracking, power, command, control, communication and information, other program-wide human factors, and ground/mission operations systems integration groups.
Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas)
Ready for a soaking - An astronaut prepares to train in the Johnson Space Center’s neutral buoyancy laboratory.
The heart of NASA’s human spaceflight program lies in Texas at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Named for our nation’s 36th president, the complex sits in the midst of 1,600 acres on the southeast edge of Houston’s city limits. The center opened in 1961 as the Manned Spacecraft Center to house the workforce that would develop the spacecraft, train the astronauts and support our nation’s efforts to land a man on the moon and safely return him to Earth by the end of the decade. The center’s original mission has expanded to include programs with long-duration spaceflights, involving international partners, and preparing for America’s next great leaps in human spaceflight. As part of this ongoing evolution, NASA constructed world-class facilities to provide unique opportunities to meet the challenges and objectives associated with the agency’s goals. The center’s current director is former astronaut Michael L. Coats.
Included in the sprawling Johnson campus are buildings designed to support the training of the U.S. astronaut corps and those from the nations who are partners in space shuttle missions and the International Space Station. Highly utilized by these individuals is the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, which houses full-size realistic mockups of the space shuttle flight deck and mid-deck, a full-size shuttle fuselage mockup, and mockups of various modules of the space station. Located within the mockup facility are two tools used in the development and evaluation of spacewalk equipment and techniques: a precision air-bearing floor and a partial gravity simulator. To further prepare for spacewalks, astronauts train at the Sonny Carter Training Facility, located a few miles from the center. This neutral buoyancy laboratory features a pool containing 6.2 million gallons of water where astronauts and their trainers experience simulated weightlessness, allowing them to train for spacewalks, refine procedures and verify hardware compatibility. Astronauts also spend hours in the Jake Garn Training Facility where they prepare for launch, landing, payload and space station operations, and rendezvous activities by training with motion-based simulators imitating the vibrations, noise and views experienced by crews on orbit.
Nearby Ellington Field houses the center’s aircraft operations. Astronauts receive spaceflight readiness training in T-38 Talon supersonic jets, and pilot astronauts train with specially modified jet aircraft to mimic the approach and landing of shuttle orbiters. NASA’s operations at the airfield also include programs using a C-9 aircraft for reduced-gravity research, two fully operational WB-57 aircraft for high-altitude research, and the Super Guppy aircraft, whose unique hinged nose allows large pieces of cargo to be transported to other NASA locations.
As part of their training, astronaut crews work closely with the teams of the Mission Control Center. Since June 3, 1965, the MCC has been an integral part of the success of NASA’s human spaceflight missions. From liftoff until the crew returns to Earth, the MCC serves as the nucleus of communication and support. Starting with the Gemini IV spacewalking mission, teams of experienced engineers and technicians in Houston have controlled every flight for the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and space shuttle programs and operations aboard the International Space Station. The original MCC configuration of two identical Mission Operations Control Rooms located on separate floors was modified and enhanced in the 1980s, resulting in flight control rooms with capabilities to simultaneously support a space station Expedition crew and a shuttle crew in flight. In the mid-1990s, while NASA’s astronauts resided on the Russian space station Mir, the MCC teams of flight controllers and support staff moved into an era of shared responsibilities with a control center in Moscow. On Nov. 2, 2000, the first Expedition crew arrived at the space station, and since that time, the MCC has monitored the station’s activities every minute of every day, and worked with NASA’s international partners to achieve mission success.
Other Johnson facilities contain a treasure trove of 800 pounds of lunar materials returned from the moon between 1969 and 1972. These lunar samples continue to be studied today by scientists from around the world. Originally housed in the center’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory, the materials were moved in 1979 to the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility, a virtually indestructible two-story facility under the direction of the center’s Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office. Along with the lunar samples, the office maintains four other collections of extraterrestrial samples, including meteorites from Antarctica, cosmic dust collected in the stratosphere, solar wind samples collected by the Genesis spacecraft, and interstellar and cometary dust samples collected during the recent Stardust mission.
To support human spaceflight, teams at Johnson help with the management and development, testing, production and delivery of all U.S. human spacecraft and all human spacecraft-related functions including life support systems, power systems, crew equipment, electrical power generation and distribution guidance, navigation and control, cooling systems, structures, flight software, robotics, spacesuits and spacewalking equipment. Projects developed at Johnson have produced scientific and medical advances, as well as spaceflight technologies that were adapted to benefit humankind in applications for medicine, energy, transportation, agriculture, communications and electronics.
In the future Johnson will serve as the site for program management of the agency’s Constellation Program. Teams at Johnson are working with partners from other NASA centers to develop the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Also underway is the testing and analysis of the spacecraft’s human interface and avionics software, its thermal and heat systems, and the crew escape system, as well as the design and creation of the next generation of spacesuits and lunar landers.
Kennedy Space Center (Florida)
Pea soup - The space shuttle Challenger moves through the fog down the 3-mile crawler way en route to Launch Pad 39A and its first launch in April 1983.
Named for the America’s 35th president, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center is the primary U.S. spaceport, NASA launch center and home to the nation’s fleet of space shuttle orbiters. It is from Kennedy that the familiar and always dramatic countdown refrain -- “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, and we have liftoff!” -- is broadcast to rapt audiences throughout the world.
Currently, the shuttle orbiters are housed, maintained and serviced in the center’s orbiter processing facilities, assembled with the other space shuttle components in the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, and launched into space from a pair of launch complexes. From 1968 to 1972, the center launched nine Apollo flights to the moon. It is adjacent to the U.S. Air Force’s Cape Canaveral launch range where missile tests are conducted and expendable satellite-carrying rockets are processed and launched. Kennedy, home to nearly 15,000 civilian, military and industry employees, features a large visitor center complex that includes museum-quality exhibits, shops, restaurants, a space shuttle experience and an IMAX theater. A Saturn V rocket is also housed for public display at the visitor center. Kennedy’s current director is William “Bill” Parsons.
Kennedy lies on 219-square miles on Florida’s coast, 50 miles east of the city of Orlando, on Merritt Island, located between the Indian and Banana Rivers with launch pad access on the Atlantic Ocean. The center has a unique designation as a wildlife sanctuary, where bald eagles, alligators, herons and other wildlife coexist with humans. The natural areas include the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and a major part of the Canaveral National Seashore. The first U.S. astronauts launched aboard the Redstone Atlas, and Titan II rockets from military launch pads located at the Air Force Cape Canaveral Air Station. The first Saturn I and IB rockets were also launched from Cape Canaveral.
Following President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 speech to Congress announcing the lunar landing goal, NASA began to acquire lands adjacent to the Air Force base on Merritt Island. On that area, the agency built new buildings and launch complexes to support the Saturn V launch vehicle and Apollo spacecraft. Launch Complex 39, consisting of two nearly identical launch pads, A and B, was constructed, with space reserved for a third such Saturn V pad had it been needed. A launch control center was built where controllers monitored the countdown for each Saturn launch. To assemble each of the moon-bound launch vehicles, the 525-foot tall VAB was erected. Inside the structure, the three stages of the Saturn V, along with the Apollo spacecraft, were assembled and stacked on top of a mobile launch platform. The last Saturn V was launched in May 1973, carrying the Skylab space station to orbit, the only use of the Saturn V as a cargo-carrying space launch vehicle. Using a modified version of the Saturn V pads, the smaller Saturn IB rocket was used from 1973-1975 to launch the three Skylab crews and the American astronauts who participated in the U.S.-Soviet Union Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
For the space shuttle program, Kennedy made modifications to or retained its Apollo-era facilities, including launch Complex 39 A and B and the interior high bays of the VAB, the mobile launching platform and slow-moving crawler transporter. The space shuttle Enterprise was used as a prototype vehicle to test the launch pad modifications, paving the way for the first space shuttle launch in April 1981.
Kennedy added other buildings to support shuttle flight operations, including new orbiter processing facilities, which act as hangars for the winged vehicles, as well as payload and ordinance buildings for the shuttles and their booster rockets and cargoes. A runway was built near the launch pads to accommodate the gliding return of the space planes, with the first shuttle landing at the center’s runway taking place at the end of the Challenger STS-41B mission in 1984. A unique 457,000 sq. ft. Space Station Processing Facility was constructed in 1994 to process and test large modules, truss segments, solar panels, etc. prior to launch. Kennedy launches many scientific and weather spacecraft into orbit aboard various expendable launch vehicles such as Delta, Atlas, Pegasus, Taurus, Titan and Athena class rockets. The center has responsibility for managing satellite launches at other launch sites, including Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.; and Kodiak, Alaska.
To help advance NASA’s Constellation Program, Kennedy will handle all ground operations of our next generation spacecraft and launch vehicles. The two Saturn V-turned-shuttle launch pads will be converted again, this time to support the new crewed Ares I and cargo-carrying Ares V launch vehicles. Kennedy will handle ground processing and launch operations of the Ares rockets and recovery of the Orion crew exploration vehicle capsules and recovery of the first-stage solids of the Ares I and Ares V vehicles. The first test flight launch of an Ares I launch vehicle is planned for early 2009, with the renewal of human launches to the moon from Kennedy slated to begin by 2020.
Langley Research Center (Hampton, Va.)
Future moon outpost - An inflatable lunar habitat being tested at Langley Research Center.
When Langley Research Center became a part of NASA at the agency’s inception, the nascent organization received not only a vital research facility, but also a piece of American history.
The Samuel P. Langley Research Center, named for the American aviation pioneer who founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, was established in 1917 as America’s first civilian aeronautics research laboratory for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Then known as the Langley Aeronautical Memorial Laboratory, the facility opened its first wind tunnel test center in 1920. Langley’s second tunnel, the Variable Density Tunnel, created by Max Munk and installed in 1922, helped to revolutionize early aeronautical design by characterizing series of airfoils. These airfoil series are still used by aircraft designers today.
Research at Langley improved the performance and capabilities of civil and military aircraft. During World War II, the Hampton, Va., facility tested nearly all U.S. military combat planes. After the war, NACA researchers focused on issues relating to high-speed flight. A difference was noted between conventional wind tunnel data and aircraft performance during high-speed maneuvers. To remedy this situation, engineer John Stack developed a concept for a slotted-throat wind tunnel design that enabled testing at high-speed conditions more closely matching actual flight conditions. The slotted-throat tunnel design was awarded a Collier Trophy and opened a pathway to supersonic aircraft development. Langley engineers designed many high-speed test airplanes. These historic aircraft included the sound barrier breaking X-1, and the X-15, the first winged aircraft to fly into space. Later, X-15 research would pave the way for the space shuttle era. When Langley was absorbed into NASA its engineers, research labs and historic aerospace data became the building blocks of the new federal space agency. Currently the center is led by Lesa B. Roe.
In the late 1950s, America’s project to put humans in space, Mercury, was developed in Langley research labs and tunnels, and managed at the center by the agency’s space task group. This group later expanded and moved on to become the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston. Prior to the move, the original seven Mercury astronauts trained and lived at Langley.
Langley also played key roles in Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. Langley engineers refined and developed the feasibility of rendezvous and docking while in orbit around the moon. Langley designed and operated simulators that allowed astronauts to learn techniques for piloting the Lunar Module. High-resolution lunar surface maps, made from photographs taken by NASA Langley’s Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, allowed mission planners to choose the safest landing sites for Apollo and the robotic Surveyor spacecraft. Other unmanned space probes that involved Langley researchers include the Echo, Explorer and PAGEOS Earth satellites, which carried experiments for scientific research and telecommunications.
Langley has also played a key role in space transportation for small payloads and satellites. In the mid-1950s, Langley researchers began developing a concept that became known as Scout. Scout rockets were launched on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, home to today’s Wallops Flight Facility. The Scout solid-fueled rocket was among NASA’s most reliable ways of lofting small satellites into Earth orbit, beginning with its inaugural flight in 1960.
After Apollo, Langley led the development of the Viking missions to Mars. The twin spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and lander and were the first two spacecraft to successfully soft land on the Red Planet, with Viking I landing on Mars’ Chryse Planitia (the Plains of Gold) on July 20, 1976, seven years to the day after Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.
Other Langley space transportation work included design and tests of space plane configurations. These included development of the X-15 rocket plane and the space shuttle. Shuttle designs were subjected to more than 60,000 hours of wind tunnel testing before the final shape of the winged craft was selected.
Langley engineers designed a small lifting body called the HL-20 as a possible ferry craft to and from the planned Space Station Freedom. Recent commercial interest has been shown in possibly developing the HL-20 as a taxi for private spaceflights into Earth orbit.
One of the space shuttle’s largest payloads, the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), was designed by Langley. The huge satellite carried 57 space experiments and was orbited for six years before its return to Earth, also aboard the shuttle. Data obtained from LDEF has been used in designing future spacecraft.
True to its aeronautics roots, Langley engineers continue to shape and improve the way planes fly. Langley researchers are working to make aircraft quieter, safer and more efficient. They’re also developing technologies to reduce delays and help the national air transportation system cope with even more traffic in the future.
Current work builds on years of innovation successes. High-speed aircraft feature narrowed fuselages pinched in near the wings and supercritical wings for increased efficiency, thanks to Langley researcher Richard Whitcomb. Airplanes and the space shuttles have graphical “glass cockpit” displays for improved ease of use as a result of Langley work. Airliners are now equipped with airborne predictive radar, developed and tested by Langley, that significantly reduces the possibility of deadly wind shear accidents. Planes are made with more efficient, lighter-weight composite materials because of the center’s extensive work in materials science. Airport runways, as well as highways, are grooved to help reduce hydroplaning accidents during rainy weather, thanks to Langley studies.
Today, Langley engineers are developing technology for more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft and rotorcraft. Langley research also is focusing on technologies that will allow airliners and other aircraft to fly faster and higher -- at supersonic and even hypersonic speeds. Researchers are working on cockpit display systems that would improve safety by giving pilots a clear electronic picture of what’s outside, including terrain, other air traffic and the airport surface, no matter what the weather or time of day. Langley researchers continue to work on ways to better diagnose and predict aircraft and mechanical failures, especially in older planes that remain in service.
Langley aeronautics also plays a role in supporting space research, studying supersonic and hypersonic speed challenges that are faced by spacecraft during planetary entry, descent and landing.
For the Constellation Program, Langley will oversee the Orion crew exploration vehicle’s launch abort system integration, with prime contractor oversight and analysis. Langley will have responsibility for flight test and pathfinder articles production for crew module, launch abort system and separation hardware. It will lead the Orion Landing System Advanced Development Project, support the Thermal Protection System Advanced Development Project, provide aero-thermal, guidance, navigation and control, and avionics software, and provide displays and controls support for Orion’s crew compartment. Langley also will provide independent analysis and systems engineering and integration support for Orion and other elements to be yet developed as part of the Constellation Program.
Langley has major roles in the Ares I crew launch vehicle. These include aerodynamic design of the entire launch vehicle, compiling an aerodynamic database and developing aeroelasticity tests and analysis. Langley also will participate in trajectory analyses for the Ares rockets.
Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, Ala.)
Fire power - A Rocketdyne RS-88 engine test at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in 2003.
When President Kennedy called in 1961 for NASA to place a man on the moon, the agency turned to Marshall Space Flight Center to create the incredibly powerful rocket needed to make that possible. Today, NASA is working to return to the moon, and has once again turned to Marshall, for an even more powerful rocket that will enable the establishment of an outpost on the lunar surface.
Since its beginning in 1960, Marshall has provided the agency with mission critical design, development and integration of the launch and space systems required for space operations, exploration and scientific missions. Marshall provided the rockets that powered Americans to the moon, developed the space shuttle propulsion system, and managed the development of Skylab, Spacelab, space station nodes, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and many other scientific instruments. The center has a rich history of integrating space systems and hardware from conception to operation. Marshall’s unique ability to link science and exploration provides answers to scientific questions, inspiration to a new generation, and innovation for the future of space exploration.
The center is named for former Army chief of staff, secretary of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner Gen. George C. Marshall and is located on the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal. The nucleus of the NASA organization in Huntsville was formed in 1960 from the U.S. Army’s Development Operations Division, part of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Wernher von Braun and his German rocket engineering team headed the new organization, which was staffed by hundreds of U.S. rocket engineers and scientists. Many facilities, buildings, test equipment and laboratories used in the Army missile and rocket programs were also transferred to NASA. Prior to their transfer to NASA, the Army rocket team in Huntsville had developed the Redstone and Jupiter missiles. The Jupiter became the launch vehicle for Explorer I, America’s first satellite. The Redstone missile evolved into the Redstone rocket that carried astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom in Mercury capsules on the nation’s first suborbital space launches in May and July of 1961.
During the 1960s, Marshall engineers developed and tested the stages and engines that powered the Saturn V launch vehicle to the moon. Test firings of the giant Saturn stages and rocket engines sometimes could be heard from as far as 100 miles away. Marshall provided NASA with a total of 32 Saturn rockets, including the six vehicles that lifted astronauts to the lunar surface.
Marshall also developed the Lunar Roving Vehicle, the innovative two-seat vehicle driven by the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 astronauts. The 10-foot-long rovers, which traveled across the lunar surface at nine miles per hour, allowed the astronauts to transport tools and equipment to the most geologically interesting sites near their landing base. When their treks were complete, each rover could return as much as 200 pounds of rock and soil samples back to the Lunar Modules for return to Earth.
Skylab, America’s first crewed space station, was built at Marshall using the third stage of the Saturn V rocket. Three crews of astronauts lived onboard Skylab during 1973 and 1974 in rotations as long as 84 days. Important elements of the space shuttle were designed and developed at Marshall, including the main engines, external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters. The external tank and solid boosters are integral to the design of the new Ares crew launch vehicle. During the 1980s and 1990s, Marshall was also responsible for several shuttle payloads, including Spacelab.
Beyond its rocket heritage, Marshall has also been involved in the development and execution of challenging scientific missions. Marshall’s scientific studies range from the birth of a hurricane on Earth to the death of a star in space. The Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope illustrate Marshall’s approach to science – creating and managing platforms that enable the international scientific community to make significant discoveries about Earth and the universe. Marshall also played a leading role in partnership with Stanford University on Gravity Probe B, a gyroscope-based experiment to test two predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
International Space Station operations depend heavily on support from Marshall. The center’s Payload Operations Center serves as NASA’s primary space station science command post, coordinating the operation of all U.S. scientific and commercial experiments on the station, managing constant Earth-to-station science communications. Marshall also continues to develop, integrate, and test major space station components including the Environmental Control and Life Support System, which provides a safe and comfortable environment for the crew and ensures their supply of water and air are pure.
Today, under the leadership of center director David A. King, Marshall is spearheading the development of essential hardware, technologies and capabilities to ensure the success of human missions to the moon. The center is responsible for developing and managing a series of robotic probes and landers, paving the way with critical information about the moon’s surface for future human landings.
Marshall’s unique capabilities will also be used to help develop the next generation of space transportation and propulsion systems. With the design and development of NASA’s new launch vehicles – the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle – America’s next human journeys to the moon will begin at Marshall. The center manages the Ares Project Office for NASA. Ares I will transport the Orion crew exploration vehicle to the International Space Station and deliver uncrewed cargo payloads to space. Ares V will carry heavy-lift payloads to space for use by exploration missions, including those that will return humans to the moon. These vehicles will serve the dual purpose of establishing a permanent lunar outpost and extending our human presence beyond Earth orbit.
The Marshall center occupies more than 1,800 acres on Redstone Arsenal and is home to more than 200 buildings and specialized facilities dedicated to supporting current and future missions.
The National Park Service has designated four of Marshall’s test facilities as National Historic landmarks. These include the Redstone test stand, the Propulsion and Structural Test Facility, the Saturn V Dynamic Test Stand, and the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator. The center’s Saturn V rocket, on public display in the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, was also declared a national landmark.
Michoud Assembly Facility (New Orleans, La.)
Call it America’s rocket factory. The Michoud Assembly Facility, in eastern New Orleans, managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center, was established as a manufacturing complex to produce stages of the Saturn rocket. For the last three decades, it has produced the space shuttle’s large external fuel tanks, and is currently preparing to build stages of the Ares rockets that will power humanity’s return to the moon.
The Michoud site, previously operated by the U.S. military, was selected in September 1961 for a Saturn stage fabrication facility. Not only did the site provide the space needed to manufacture the 32.8-foot wide Saturn V first stage, but the Intercoastal Waterway location was ideal for the transportation of the finished products. The location was also convenient to the Mississippi engine test stands at what is now Stennis Space Center. In December 1963, the facility completed its first Saturn I rocket.
In the mid-1970s, Michoud was retooled for the production of the space shuttle’s 154-foot-long and 27-foot-wide external tanks. The assembly required the creation of new fixtures more than half the length of a football field, and several stories high.
Work supporting the Constellation Program began recently at Michoud. Not only will the facility manufacture the upper stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the core stage of the Ares V cargo launch vehicle, it will also produce major pieces of the Orion crew spacecraft.
NASA Shared Services Center (Mississippi)
The NASA Shared Services Center, located on the grounds of NASA’s Stennis Space Center, is an innovative, public-private partnership among NASA, the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, and Computer Sciences Corporation. The center provides consistent, high-quality support services in the areas of financial management, human resources, information technology and procurement to the agency. Richard E. Arbuthnot currently serves as Executive Director.
As a shared services organization, the NSSC provides cost savings for the agency through consolidation, standardization and automation of select business processes. Projected annual savings are estimated at $6 million per year after stabilization of the NSSC. This allows NASA to refocus efficiencies gained and its resources on agency core missions.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Administrator Michael D. Griffin reaffirmed NASA’s commitment to locate the NSSC in Mississippi, and on March 1, 2006, the NSSC opened for business. One year later, in March 2007, the NSSC was selected first runner-up for the Best New Shared Services Organization Excellence Award. The award, established by the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network, a division of the International Quality and Productivity Center, is recognized nationally as the highest accolade for shared services organizations.
Employing nearly 330 civil servants and service provider associates with numbers to approach 470 in the future, the NSSC takes pride in its highly skilled, highly educated professional workforce.
Plum Brook Station (Sandusky, Ohio)
Managed by Glenn Research Center, the Plum Brook Station is home to four unique NASA test facilities. Plum Brook Station is a former Army Ordinance Works from which the NACA acquired 600 acres in 1956 to build a nuclear test reactor (now being decommissioned).
After NASA’s establishment, the agency acquired from the Defense Department the remaining 8,000-plus acres of land for the construction of rocket test facilities. Plum Brook Station was ideal for the large safety zones required for the reactor and other planned test facilities.
Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility is the world’s largest space environment simulation chamber, and has been used to test parts of everything from Mars landers to space station elements. The Spacecraft Propulsion Facility tests large liquid-hydrogen-fueled rocket engine upper stages and engines by simulating high-altitude flight. The Cryogenic Propellant Tank Facility is used for large-scale experiments using cryogenic liquid hydrogen, and is supplemented by a Cryogenic Components Laboratory, a new facility for research involving super-cold materials. Finally, the Hypersonic Tunnel Facility is a wind tunnel that can test propulsion systems in conditions simulating flight at speeds exceeding Mach 5.
John C. Stennis Space Center (Mississippi)
Ready for testing - A worker prepares a space shuttle main engine for testing at the Stennis Space Center.
The roar of rockets is frequently heard across Hancock County, Miss., originating on the grounds of the John C. Stennis Space Center.
At Stennis, named in 1988 in honor of Mississippi’s long-serving U.S. senator following three previous incarnations – Mississippi Test Operations (1961), Mississippi Test Facility (1965), and National Space Technology Laboratories (1974) – rocket engine propulsion test firings are conducted on a series of static test stands. The stands are structures that hold down individual rocket stages and engines so that they can be fired as they are during an actual spaceflight. The stands are surrounded by a 125,000-acre acoustical buffer zone, which is intended to absorb much of the vibration and sound generated by the testing of the large engines and stages.
On Oct. 25, 1961, following President Kennedy’s moon landing proposal, NASA decided to build a testing complex specifically for the Saturn V moon rocket on the 13,500-acre site in rural Mississippi. At the time, the test facility was the largest construction project ever carried out in Mississippi history, and the second largest in the nation. Site selection was driven by the availability of access to canals and waterways that would allow NASA to move rockets from the assembly site in New Orleans to the test site and then onward to their launching base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first static test firing of a Saturn V S-II second-stage research engine took place on April 23, 1966. Regular testing of S-IC first and S-II second stages began in 1967.
At the end of the Apollo Program, the test stands were modified to test the engines used on the space shuttle orbiters. For each shuttle mission, the orbiter’s three liquid engines undergo acceptance testing at Stennis. The engine is mounted vertically in the A-2 Test Stand, where it is ignited and fired for varying durations and thrust settings. The engines are then shipped by truck to the Kennedy Space Center for installation in an orbiter. Stennis engineers also conduct testing for individual engine components, making sure all parts have been subjected to launch environments before use in a shuttle mission. The first successful full-duration shuttle engine test – the first without an early shutdown – took place on June 24, 1975. On Aug. 20, 1990, a major milestone in rocket propulsion testing was reached when shuttle engines were test fired on all three test stands on the same day.
Stennis is used to test and flight-certify Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s RS-68 engines used in the Delta IV expendable launch vehicle program. The RS-68 engine will also be used in the Ares V cargo launch vehicle. Stennis was also involved in engine development for the proposed X-33 reusable space vehicle. On March 16, 1996, Stennis conducted the first test of a subscale cryogenic fuel tank intended for use in the X-33 reusable launch vehicle project. Stennis also conducted tests on the XRS-2200 Linear Aerospike engine for the X-33 program, data from which could help with development of the J-2X engine to be used on the Ares launch vehicles.
On Aug. 23, 2007, Stennis broke ground for its first new large rocket test stand since the 1960s. The new A-3 test stand will provide altitude testing for the J-2X engine which will power the upper stages of NASA’s next-generation Ares I and Ares V rockets. The 300-foot tall A-3 test stand will allow engineers to simulate conditions at different altitudes by generating steam to reduce pressure in the test cell. Testing on the A-3 stand is scheduled to begin in late 2010. In Nov. 2006, Stennis’ existing A-1 stand was handed over to the Constellation Program for testing J-2X liquid engines which will power the Ares 1 upper stage and the Ares V earth departure stage. The handover marked a return to form for the historic stand, which first tested the original J-2 in the 1960s. Stennis also will develop and test liquid propellant systems for the Ares rockets, such as fuel lines, pipes, tanks, actuators and valve assemblies.
All of Stennis’ test facilities are linked together by a seven-and-a-half-mile-long system of canals used for transporting liquid fuel propellants. Other parts of the test complexes include control centers, data acquisition facilities, a large high-pressure gas facility, a high-pressure industrial water facility served by a 66-million-gallon reservoir and a plant for generating electrical power.
Since 1988, Stennis has developed a role in remote sensing, providing a number of useful applications for using satellite imagery to enhance agricultural productivity and to support land use planning and natural disaster relief efforts.
Stennis hosts NASA’s Rocket Propulsion Test Management Board, which has agency-wide jurisdiction over all NASA rocket engine testing, including facilities at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, and Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio.
Stennis, currently headed by former astronaut Robert Cabana, is home to more than its NASA facilities. More than thirty other agencies and organizations are located at the center, including the National Data Buoy Center operated by NOAA, an office of the Naval Research laboratory, Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space and Technology Center, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Navy Special Boat Team Twenty-Two and the University of Southern Mississippi’s High Performance Visualization Center.
Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, Va.)
Good Scout - Scout rockets launched at the Wallops Flight Facility have been used to place small satellites into orbit and for research.
Located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops routinely conducts launches of suborbital and small orbital rockets. Established in 1945, Wallops is one of the oldest rocket launch sites in the world.
In support of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Wallops-managed suborbital sounding rockets, scientific balloons and aircraft provide scientists and students world wide access to conduct Earth and space research. Partnering with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, the facility launches small rockets carrying satellites for government and commercial customers. In addition, NASA has established partnerships with other government agencies and education organizations located at Wallops, including the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA and the Marine Science Consortium. The Wallops Flight Facility is currently directed by Dr. John Campbell.
White Sands Test Facility (Las Cruces, N.M.)
Located in southwestern New Mexico, the White Sands facility, managed by the Johnson Space Center, tests rocket propulsion systems and hardware used in space flight, including full-size components of the Apollo Service Propulsion engine, the Lunar Module’s engines, and engines used to maneuver the space shuttle vehicles in space. White Sands engineers also have tested rockets used on upper stages of military launch vehicles and planetary spacecraft. In the tests, engineers ensure that the engines and thrusters are burning with the right thrust and temperatures needed in their missions. Other laboratories test the chemical, metallurgical and other physical properties of the hardware. Technicians are also trained at the facility to carefully handle the hazardous and toxic chemicals used to power the engines. Following their test firings, the units are disassembled, cleaned and studied to determine any changes that might be needed in either their design or operations. The White Sands tests make for a safer and more reliable propulsion system for both manned and robotic spaceflight. The facility is currently managed by Frank Benz.
David Hitt of the NASA Educational Technology Services team also contributed to this article.