Inventing the Future is the motto of NASA as it begins its second 100 years. But, the future is always built upon the past and the present. So, October 21, the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia celebrated its one-hundredth year of advancing aeronautical and space knowledge and science with a Centennial Open House.
THE FIRST 100 YEARS
NASA or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established at Langley in 1917 as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and tasked with the job of solving the problems of flight. To accomplish that assignment, beginning in 1917, wind tunnels and laboratories were built and an array of engineers, scientists, mathematicians – known as human computers – and crafts people were gathered together at a small airfield in the flat farmland of Hampton Virginia.
Researchers at Langley contributed to aviation and aeronautics through the years with significant contributions to the advancement of US aircraft during WWII. Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, as it was known then, established a rocket testing range at Wallops Island, Va., to learn more about transonic flight. The data from test rockets went into the design of the Douglas D-558 and the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to attempt to fly faster than the speed of sound. This same data was useful when the nation began to develop a space program.
Langley contributed significantly to Project Mercury, which was initially based here. The original seven astronauts trained at Langley. The prototypes of the Mercury capsules, known as Little Joe and Big Joe were developed and tested by Langley staff in Langley workshops and tunnels. They also designed and monitored a tracking and ground instrumentation system. The book and the movie entitled “Hidden Figures” provide excellent insights into this period at NASA.
The challenge of landing humans on the moon required a tremendous effort. Langley tested the Saturn-Apollo vehicle in wind tunnels and trained 24 astronauts in rendezvous and docking, Lunar Excursion Module landing, and reduced gravity walking. Langley researchers developed rendezvous and docking technology and simulations. For Project FIRE, researchers studied re-entry effects on spacecraft materials.
Langley made significant contributions to the Space Shuttle. Langley researchers developed preliminary Shuttle designs, including the use of a modified delta wing. About 60,000 hours of shuttle wind tunnel tests and analysis were conducted at Langley. These results, as well as countless hours of materials and flight control and guidance systems work, constitute over half of the Shuttle Aerodynamic Design Data Book.
INVENTING THE FUTURE
Langley is all eyes forward on the future and is busy researching future aeronautical and space craft. One craft is the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which will carry four astronauts to the moon, fly up to six astronauts on future Mars missions, and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station. Langley is also developing technology that will one day be used to take astronauts to Mars or send spacecraft to explore other planets, moons, comets, and more. Langley is looking at space propulsion with solar sails and aerocapture techniques, along with systems analysis studies.
NASA is not just ‘Lost in Space’. Langley stands to play a key role in the cutting-edge NASA aeronautics initiative known as New Aviation Horizons, a 10-year plan to design, build and fly experimental aircraft, known popularly as X-planes. Langley researchers have begun work on ways to make personal air mobility through individual flying cars a reality. Research is also being conducted into autonomous self-assembly of both in-space and on-planet structures in anticipation of humanity’s push beyond Earth into the solar system.
These are only a few of NASA’s current project. Quite clearly, the effort to make the future – the present never stops at NASA Langley.