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Guide to the NASA Ames Research Center Artifacts Collection, 1939-2009
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Administrative History
  • Sources Consulted:
  • Indexing Terms
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement of the NASA Ames Research Center Artifacts Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: NASA Ames Research Center Artifacts Collection
    Date (inclusive): 1939-2009
    Collection Number: ART1387
    Collector: Ames Research Center
    Extent: Number of items: 645

    Repository: Ames Research Center, Ames History Office
    Moffett Field, California 94035
    Abstract: The Artifact Collection contains a wide range of objects related to the history of Ames, dated from approximately 1939 to 2009. This is an artificial collection comprised of items donated by many different organizational units and individuals associated with NACA, NASA, and Ames.
    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. ART1387, Artifacts Collection, [Container number]: [Folder number]. [Identification of item]. [Date, if available].

    Abbreviated Citation

    NASA ARC. ART1387, [Container number]: [Folder number]. [Identification of item]. [Date, if available].

    Administrative History

    NASA Ames Research Center (Ames, NASA Ames, and ARC), originally called Ames Aeronautical Laboratory (AAL), is the second oldest of NASA's ten field installations after Langley Research Center. Ames formed in 1939 by NASA's precursor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, pronounced en ay see ay), which was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1915 "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions" (Public Law 271, 1915).
    Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, named for Joseph Sweetman Ames (long-time NACA Chairman from 1927-1939), was built during the massive mobilization effort that preceded the formal entry of the United States into World War II. Ames would focus on aerodynamics research, with an emphasis on high-speed aerodynamics, using flight research, wind tunnel testing, and theoretical investigation. Groundbreaking for the laboratory occurred December 20, 1939 in Santa Clara County, California, at the Naval Air Station Sunnyvale (NAS Sunnyvale, later renamed NAS Moffett Federal Airfield, also known as Moffett Field). By fall 1940, staff completed the first facilities, a flight research building and technical services building with machine and model shop, and commenced construction of four wind tunnels (two 7 x 10-foot tunnels, a 16-foot, and a 40 x 80-foot tunnel).
    During the first six years, Ames exploded with growth and activity as it simultaneously developed the center and supported the war effort. Construction abounded and projects completed included two more wind tunnels, two laboratories, an electrical substation, and an aircraft hangar. As facilities and wind tunnels came online and the nation entered the war, staff worked feverishly to resolve various aircraft stability and control issues in concert with the military services and civilian aircraft companies. By 1946, Ames was honored with Lew Roddert's receipt of the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for leading the center's development of an aircraft wing deicing system.
    Throughout the next decade, Ames pursued wide-ranging challenges related to high-speed flight. Transonic and hypersonic wind tunnel facilities were designed and built, and engineers applied themselves to finding ways for jet aircraft to fly faster and faster. Engineers designed early simulators to complement tunnel and in-flight testing, employed a standardized methodology for enhancing flight research with pilot feedback, and invested in new computing facilities to automate cumbersome data reduction efforts in flight simulation work. Research at Ames broadened, with significant efforts in boundary layer research into applications beyond aircraft to rocket launched vehicles, ballistic missiles, and associated thermal protection systems. To conduct these investigations, Ames scientists and engineers designed new facilities to support atmospheric entry simulations such as ballistic ranges, shock tunnels, and an arc jet tunnel. In 1953, H. Julian Allen published the blunt-body concept demonstrating the reentry shape needed for a spacecraft to enter Earth's or another planet's atmosphere.
    With passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958 following the Soviet Union's successful Sputnik I and II satellite missions in 1957, Ames became part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), along with the other three NACA laboratories (Langley, Lewis, and Dryden). Under the Space Act mandate NACA laboratories were redesignated as NASA research centers (e.g., Ames was renamed NASA Ames Research Center) and given a new charter.
    ... The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:
    • (1) The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
    • (2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
    • (3) The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies and living organisms through space;
    • (4) The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.
    • (5) The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.
    • (6) The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defenses of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
    • (7) Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results, thereof; and
    • (8) The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment (Public Law 85-568, 1958).
    With the transition to NASA, Ames also added public information officers to fulfill NASA's requirement to widely disseminate information about its activities.
    In its first few years as a NASA center, Ames curbed some of its aeronautical research efforts and reorganized objectives to accommodate the space age by adding a manned satellite team, elevating aerothermodynamics research, and forming new vehicle environment, space sciences, and life sciences divisions. Facilities completed to support aerothermodynamics and materials research included a hypervelocity free-flight facility, another ballistics range, additional arc jet tunnels, and small wind tunnels equipped to hold gasses and function at high speeds and temperatures. Ames engineers designed a suite of flight simulators capable of combining mechanical and computer-simulated movement to achieve up to six degrees of motion. The many uses for flight simulators, which continued to evolve, included training America's astronauts. Later, in 1965, a new life sciences research laboratory was dedicated and centrifuges, such as the flight and guidance centrifuge that came online in 1971, supported emerging studies in exobiology and human factors research.
    With an impressive and growing collection of wind tunnels, laboratories, computing and other facilities, and with experience in a wide array of basic and applied research applications, the center had laid a firm foundation from which it continued to grow its research and program management capabilities over the decades. Ames has led NASA's efforts in many areas, such as astrobiology, space life sciences, human factors research, planetary science and exploration, small satellites, materials science, nanotechnology, aeronautics, air traffic management, computational fluid dynamics, supercomputing, and information technology applications. Highlights of the center's activities include the wingless M2-F2 lifting body craft Ames conceived, tested, and built in the 1950s, which contributed to the development of the reusable Space Shuttle design that first flew in 1981. Aerothermodynamics and materials research conducted by the center produced thermal protection materials used on reentry vehicles from the Apollo capsules and Space Shuttle, to all of NASA's planetary probes and Mars landers. Ames designed, built, and managed eight Pioneer spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s, which studied the sun, Venus, and the outer planets and achieved some impressive firsts. Pioneers 10 and 11 were the first spacecraft to safely travel through the asteroid belt, first to encounter Jupiter and Saturn, and first manmade objects to pass beyond the orbit of Pluto. The Pioneer Venus orbiter and multiprobe craft were first to map Venus and characterize the planet's atmosphere. Ames contributed to the design and execution of many other small satellite missions, such as Viking 1 and 2, all of the Mars exploration rovers, Galileo, Stardust, Lunar Prospector, and LCROSS, as well as telescopes, such as Spitzer and Kepler. Ames launched a fleet of airborne science platforms, including Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), the first major airborne astronomical research laboratory aboard a modified Lockheed C-141. Among the accomplishments of KAO, which completed over 1,400 flights, was the discovery of the rings around Uranus and scientific data concerning conditions in space contributing to the formation of stars. At present, the next generation platform designed by Ames is in the skies in the form of a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
    From the Apollo lunar surface magnetometers to various devices like the chemistry and mineralogy experiment on Mars today, Ames has designed scientific instrument packages for conducting investigations about the composition and character of other planets and phenomena in our solar system. Since 1971, Ames scientists have used data from NASA's exploration of our solar system with numerical modeling and supercomputing, to produce sophisticated analyses of the compositions, atmospheres, and other complex characteristics of outer and inner planets, including Earth.
    Since the 1940s, Ames conducted extensive tests of air and spacecraft in its wind tunnels and developed various techniques to automate data reduction and visualization. In the 1970s, Ames developed the field of computational fluid dynamics. In addition to a long legacy of airframe testing and flight simulation, the center has advanced new aircraft designs, such as short-haul/takeoff research aircraft like the XV-15 Tilt Rotor aircraft in use today.
    Many three-dimensional objects have been produced in support of the center's diverse areas of research and investigation for NACA and NASA, from the onset of the Second World War through the dawn of the space and information ages and beyond. Artifacts such as models, artwork, and instrumentation were designed for testing, conceptual, and educational purposes. These objects have been created at Ames in facilities such as instrumentation laboratories, machine shops, and model shops, and made to order by outside contractors, from local artists to aerospace companies.

    Sources Consulted:

    Bugos, Glenn E. Atmosphere of freedom: 70 years at the NASA Ames Research Center. Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-2010-4314, 2010.
    Hartman, Edwin. Adventures in research: A history of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965. Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-4302, 1970.
    Public Law 271, 63rd Congress. H.R. 20975, March 3, 1915.
    Public Law 85-568, 85th Congress, H.R. 12575, July 29, 1958.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms may be used to index this collection.

    Corporate Name

    Ames Research Center
    United States. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics


    Aerospace--Equipment and supplies
    Ames Research Center--Art collections
    Ames Research Center--Awards
    Astronomy in art
    Engineering models
    Scientific apparatus and instruments
    Signage and signboards
    Space vehicles--Coatings
    Space vehicles--Models
    Wind tunnel models

    Scope and Content

    The Artifact Collection contains 645 objects generated by the research, programs, accomplishments, and outreach efforts at Ames since the NACA groundbreaking on December 20, 1939. Materials in this collection are arranged into eight series: Artwork, Models, Scientific Instruments, Equipment, Awards, Ephemera and Commemorative Items, Exhibits and Signage, and Miscellaneous. This collection of objects provides three-dimensional examples of the center's technical pursuits and achievements. It contains tools used in research and development, technology models and spares, artworks depicting designs and plans, and honors received for successful efforts. Also included are signage, mementos, and ephemera commemorating anniversaries, missions, and collaborations.
    Represented across the collection are Ames contributions to science and engineering for nearly three quarters of a century. Evidence of the center's involvement in aeronautics research includes artwork and models of innovative aircraft designs, as well as awards for engineering breakthroughs. Items related to planetary exploration include artifacts from the Pioneer Project era, such as scale models, several original paintings depicting artist conceptions of planetary encounters by various Pioneers, and prestigious awards. While aeronautics research and space projects are well represented, the collection also reflects the broad array of other competencies at Ames, such as supercomputing, airborne science applications, and human factors research.

    Arrangement of the NASA Ames Research Center Artifacts Collection

    The collection is arranged into eight series:
    • I. Artwork.
    • II. Models
    • III. Scientific Instruments
    • IV. Equipment
    • V. Awards
    • VI. Ephemera and Commemorative Items
    • VII. Exhibits and Signage
    • VIII. Miscellaneous