Adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Ohio, there’s a collection of buildings where early experiments in turbojet engines, liquid hydrogen fuel, and wind energy were conducted. A place whose technologies once helped the United States to win the moon race and today contribute to our journey to Mars. That facility, the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center, celebrates 75 years of advancing spaceflight technology in 2016. The center was renamed after John H. Glenn, the former astronaut and U.S. Senator, in 1999. He was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962 and became the oldest person to fly in space in 1998 aboard a mission on Space Shuttle Discovery. The major aeronautics and space test ground spotlights its own decades-long history in a new publication made available through GPO.
Born of the Yankee ingenuity of World War II, the research center began operations in 1942 under the name of Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL) and the auspices of NASA’s predecessor, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The center was first tasked with improving aircraft engines to compete with Nazi Germany. It quickly established itself as a foremost test facility for high-speed flight and jet engine technologies. In the early, post-war years of NASA, the center managed several large projects, most notably contributing to Project Mercury, the first manned mission. Since that time, “the three pillars of the center’s success have been its robust physical assets, its astute leadership, and the accomplished staff.”
The 1990s was a particularly prolific time for the center. It manufactured the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) deployed on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. In 1994, it was assigned management of the power system for the U.S.-Russian Mir Cooperative Solar Array program. And before the successful Martian landing of the Pathfinder rover, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) turned to the center to conduct three performance tests. Over the years, lessons learned from high-energy propellants experiments have propelled the aerospace industry into the future.
Today, the Glenn Research Center is an unparalleled aeropropulsion and alternative energy trendsetter. The center is credited with developing the ion engine used on the Deep Space 1 probe and the power system currently in use on the International Space Station. It is home to the Zero-Gravity facility, the largest drop tower of its kind. It also hosts the Propulsion System Lab, the nation’s premier altitude flight simulation facility. Another section tests how spacecraft will survive the unique and hostile conditions of deep space. And the Photovoltaic Lab studies how to power future spacecraft going to Jupiter and Saturn.
The center’s aeronautics expertise has considerably advanced NASA mission-critical technology and leadership inside and outside the lab. Remarking on the center’s anniversary, Sen. John Glenn said such work is “important in maintaining a leadership in this kind of research, this kind of emphasis on the new and the unknown” and to “maximize the research return right here on Earth.” Seventy-five years of “making the future” in aerospace R&D and solar system exploration is just the beginning for the Glenn Research Center.
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About the author: Blogger contributor Chelsea Milko is a Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.