Guide to the PAET Flight Project Collection, 1966-1971

Guide prepared by Jack Doran
NASA Ames History Office
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 207-1
Moffett Field, California 94035
Phone: (650) 604-1032
2017 NASA Ames Research Center.

Guide to the PAET Flight Project Collection, 1966-1971

NASA Ames History Office

NASA Ames Research Center

Contact Information:

  • NASA Ames History Office
  • NASA Ames Research Center
  • Mail Stop 207-1
  • Moffett Field, CA 94035
  • Phone: (650) 604-1032
  • Email:
  • URL:
Collection processed by:
Jack Doran. EAD and guide updated by Danielle K. Lopez, September 2017
Date Completed:
October 2012

Descriptive Summary

Title: PAET Flight Project Collection
Date (inclusive): 1966-1971
Collection Number: AFS8000.5-PAET
Creator: Ames Research Center
Extent: Number of containers: 14

Volume: .35 cubic feet, 13 film reels
Repository: Ames Research Center, Ames History Office
Moffett Field, California 94035
Abstract: This collection consists of two binders and thirteen film reels of material related to the Planetary Atmosphere Experiments Test (PAET) Project. The first binder, which was compiled by PAET Project Manager David E. Reese, primarily contains logistical documents for the flight, including pre-flight test data sheets and reliability and quality assurance reports. The second binder contains photographs detailing the PAET vehicle and payload instruments. Thirteen film reels capture various flight stages of the PAET probe, including, probe launch, drop test, and splashdown
Language: English

Administrative Information


Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright does not apply to United States government records. For non-government material, researcher must contact the original creator.

Preferred Citation

NASA Ames History Office, NASA Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, California. AFS8000.5-PAET, PAET Flight Project Collection, [Container number]: [Folder number]. [Identification of item]. [Date, if available].

Abbreviated Citation

NASA ARC. AFS8000.5-PAET, [Container number]: [Folder number]. [Identification of item]. [Date, if available].

Alternate Form of Materials Available

A selection of images, documents, and film reels from this collection have been digitized and are available upon request.

Acquisition Information

Transferred by Robert E. Sly on February 19, 2008 (2008-004), Diane Farrar and Larry Lasher on October 11, 2005 (2005-19, and Charles Sobeck on October 24, 2005 (2005-24).

Administrative History

By 1970, NASA had established a planetary exploration program for future missions to Mars, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. One of the primary objectives of these interplanetary missions was to gain a better understanding of atmospheric properties on other planets, but the methods and instrumentation necessary to achieve this end had to first be tested. The idea that an entry probe could be used to determine the structure and characteristics of a planet's atmosphere was put forth by Ames planetary scientist Alvin Seiff. The PAET project was the first time Seiff's conception of probe technology was tested.
The aim of the PAET project was to expand on the understanding of atmospheric structure by taking measurements of atmospheric effects on spacecraft specifically during planetary entry. Included in the instrument package were accelerometers, radiometers, pressure sensors and temperature sensors, all of which were collectively employed to determine pressure, temperature, stagnation pressure, density changes with different altitudes, mean molecular weight in the atmosphere and water vapor. A mass spectrometer was employed for the purpose of effectively determining gas species.
Most instruments, as well as the body of the PAET spacecraft were designed, fabricated and tested at Ames. The craft consisted of the entry vehicle and the entry vehicle separation system for a combined weight of 296 pounds. The entry vehicle consisted of a blunt shaped forebody and a honeycomb shaped afterbody. It was 36 inches in diameter and 25.2 inches long. Before launch the aerodynamic shape of the spacecraft was studied with tests in the NASA Ames Hypervelocity Free Flight Tunnel.
Launch took place on June 20, 1971 at Wallops Island, and the craft's flight from liftoff to splashdown totaled just over 13 minutes with a peak altitude of 400 kilometers and entry trajectory commencing at nearly 250 kilometers. Data was collected primarily at the MSFN in Bermuda near impact, but the MSFN Tracking Ship USNS Vanguard and three telemetry ships were also employed to provide stored telemetry data gathered during radio signal blackout.
Participants and analysts involved with PAET determined that the instruments and techniques being tested were largely successful. Measurements taken of atmospheric structure, temperature profile and mole fractions of major gases were all deemed accurate and satisfactory. The one conspicuous problem was an apparent blocking of the hole at the nose of the craft through which the mass spectrometer was to take gas samples. It was concluded that the PAET succeeded in supporting forthcoming missions to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn with the respective Viking, Pioneer Venus, Galileo and the Cassini-Huygens projects.
The Planetary Atmosphere Experiments Test Project was part of a program directed from the Entry Technology Office of the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART) at NASA Headquarters. The PAET Project team at headquarters was led by Warren A. Guild and J. Levine. OART tasked project management to Ames Research Center, with David E. Reese as project manager. The Scout Launch Vehicle was managed by Paul E. Goozh from the Office of Launch Vehicle and Propulsion Programs of the Office of Space Science and Applications, and R. D. English from Langley Research Center. Goddard Space Flight Center managed the test tracking and communications on behalf of NASA's Office of Tracking and Data Acquisition. OART technical associates for the science investigations were J. E. Greene (atmospheric structure and radiometer), and Dr. Robert F. Fellows (mass spectrometer). Principal investigators for the experiment packages were Simon C. Sommer (Ames) and Hasso B. Niemann (Goddard) for atmosphere structure, Ellis E. Whiting (Ames) for radiometric composition experiment, and N. Spencer (Goddard) for the mass spectrometer.

Sources Consulted:

NASA Ames History Office, NASA Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, California. AFS1380.39A, Ames Astrogram. "Ames PAET Launch Set for June 16," p. 1, vol. 13, no. 17, June 10, 1971.
NASA Ames History Office, NASA Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, California. AFS1380.39A, Ames Astrogram. "PAET Staff Enjoys Success," pp.1-2, vol. 13, no.19, July 8, 1971.
"Planetary Atmosphere Experiments Test (PAET) Press Kit" (Document ID 19710021556), NASA, accessed September 2012 from
Seiff, Alvin, David E. Reese, Simon C. Sommer, Donn B. Kirk, Ellis E. Whiting and Hasso B. Niemann. "PAET, An Entry Probe Experiment in the Earth's Atmosphere." Icarus 18, no. 4 (1972): 525-563.

Indexing Terms

The following terms may be used to index this collection.

Corporate Name

Ames Research Center


Flight Tests
Planetary Atmosphere Experiements Test
Atmospheric Composition
Atmospheric Structure Instrument

Geographic Names

Wallops Island (Va.). NASA Wallops Flight Center

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Reese, David E.

Scope and Content

The PAET Flight Project Collection consist of two binders and thirteen 16mm film reels. The first binder (folders 1-12) contains documents relating to the pre-flight tests conducted before the PAET vehicle's flight, the data sheets related to its design and trajectory, as well as its communications. The Prelaunch Operations folder provides special instructions for the integration, test and launch activities specific to the PAET, and can be utilized as a supplemental overview of the purpose of the collected data included in this binder. Also included in the first binder is a folder of photographs of the spacecraft and the instruments contained therein.
Binder two (folders 13-15) consists of additional photographs. Folder 13 is made up of shadowgraph images of the re-entry vehicle as well as photos of the engineering model and internal design. Folder 14 contains engineering verification photos of the accelerometer, pressure sensors and other instruments used in the PAET. Folder 15 includes photographs of the flight model and its separation system, the launch itself and finally a group photo of the PAET staff.
The film footage shows the PAET vehicle's launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, drop testing, and splashdown. The bulk of the footage captures the launch vehicle's takeoff, recorded from several camera locations. Drop test footage captures the probe's descent from various angles and heights. Splashdown footage shows various team members onboard the recovery ship watching the probe re-entry and splash down northeast of Bermuda.

Arrangement of the PAET Flight Project Collection

Original order was maintained for the entire collection. All contents were removed from their binders and placed in protective housing. Contents are arranged by function, and by format in the case of photographs. The accrued set of film reels are arranged by the creator's given reel numbers and then in alphabetical order.

Container List

Box 1, Folder 1

PAET Checklist circa 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 2

Reliability and Quality Assurance Reports 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 3

Test Program 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 4

Data Sheets 1971

Box 1, Folder 5

Calibrations 1971

Box 1, Folder 6

Photographs 1971

Box 1, Folder 7

Spin Balance circa 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 8

Inertia Balance 1970

Box 1, Folder 9

Alignment Measurements circa 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 10

Assembly Procedure circa 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 11

Prelaunch Operations circa 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 12

Flight Readiness Review 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 13

PAET Photographs (1 of 3) 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 14

PAET Photographs (2 of 3) 1970-1971

Box 1, Folder 15

PAET Photographs (3 of 3) 1970-1971

Reel 1

Reel 1. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 2

Reel 2. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 3

Reel 3. Camera Station Number 5, 10 inch lens, 64pps 1971

Reel 4

Reel 4. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 5

Reel 5. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 6

Reel 6. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 7

Reel 7. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 8

Reel 8. A4-4210 Scout S-1440C PAET Launch 1971

Reel 9

Reel 9. Camera Station Number 9, 80-inch lens, 64 pps 1971

Reel 10

Body Drop Sommer J.O. R-3239 1966

Reel 11

PAET Re-entry 1971

Reel 12

Spinning Tumbled 1966

Reel 13

UNVS Vanguard PAET Re-entry 1971