This month marks NASA’s 56th anniversary. In those 56 years, NASA has made amazing contributions to modern American life. Yet, people often forget that many of NASA’s most meaningful contributions have nothing to do with space exploration. The fascinating book, NASA’s First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008 by Robert G. Ferguson shines a light on NASA’s aeronautics program, an important but often underappreciated part of the agency.
The book explains that while the aeronautics program is often overshadowed by the more glamorous space program, aeronautics research has had a direct and undeniable impact on both commercial and military technology. The book illustrates the importance of the aeronautics program by offering up a chronological history of the aeronautics program including the major research areas and important technological contributions of the program.
The chronological history of the aeronautics program begins in the book’s second chapter, which covers NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the predecessor of NASA. Chapter three focuses on the creation of NASA and how aeronautics fit into the new agency as well as the contributions the program made to the “space race.” Chapter four covers the 1970s, a time when NASA faced pressures to contribute solutions to increasing energy and environmental problems and aeronautics research shifted to help tackle some of these issues. The fifth chapter discusses the 1980s when the Cold War created a strong focus on aeronautical R&D. The chapter also covers more quotidian, but equally important, contributions of the aeronautics program, like troubleshooting for wind shear and icing. Chapter six is about the 1990s, and focuses on aeronautics after the Cold War as well as the creation and eventual demise of two major aeronautics programs, the High Speed Research Program and the Advanced Subsonic Technology Program. The seventh chapter is the end of the book’s chronological history and it covers the three major research areas of the early 2000s: blended wing body design research, intergraded scramjet research, and air traffic control research.
The book is a great read. It offers an interesting introductory history of NASA’s aeronautics program, and readers will certainly no longer make the mistake of thinking that NASA is only concerned with space.
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About the author: Our guest blogger is Megan Martinsen, Graduate Intern in GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division