Ed Saltzman (NASA Photo) The desert played a key role in Ed Saltzman's signature work with aerodynamics and truck fairings, but the Mojave was a long way from his roots in Iowa farm country. And he is quick to say that his wife of 62 years, Lois, is a big reason he was able to enjoy a long career at Dryden.
Saltzman came from a farm family but his father was determined that his son should get a college education and have opportunities other than taking over the family business. In 1950, Saltzman graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant with a bachelor's degree in physics.
An interest in aviation had been piqued by his grandfather, a bona fide "barnstormer" who'd flown Saltzman over the cornfields in his small airplane. After graduating, Saltzman sent applications to several field centers of NASA's predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He received multiple offers, but the NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station in California beckoned the loudest.
"I just knew I wanted to do experimental work," Saltzman recalls now, "on something."
So he and Lois and their two youngest children - one still in diapers - packed up and left their homes and families. Their first weeks in the region weren't altogether idyllic.
"When I saw the desert for the first time, tears rolled down my cheeks," Lois remembers. The green grass and neat farm fields of home seemed very far away. With Ed off to an exciting new job at what is now Dryden, Lois and the two boys made a temporary home at a small Mojave motel. "Sand," she said. "Sand and ants. Everywhere."
Before long, Ed recognized how homesick Lois really was. "I came home one day and said to her, 'You know, dear, some of the people I work with say they felt this way, too, when they first came here," he said. "But then they stayed, and they really got to liking it."
"Oh, let's go home then - before that happens to us," was Lois's only response. But despite her feelings, and despite Ed's offer to do just that, Lois was determined that she would not be the reason Ed left a job that he loved. "I told him that if we went home, it would only be because he wanted to," she said. And so they stayed.
Ed spent 51 years at Dryden before retiring in 2002. Of their six children - three boys, three girls, ages 44 to 60 - two sons work at Dryden. They have 13 grandchildren (one, another chip off the Saltzman engineering block, is a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories) and eight great-grandchildren. As it is for many Midwestern transplants in California, the desert is now home to the Saltzman family, though Ed's career was fed at important junctures by the work ethic, farmer's ingenuity and value system he brought with him from the heartland.