SP-4302 Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center 1940-1965

 

PART II : A NEW WORLD OF SPEED : 1946-1958

1958

 

17

The Legacy From NACA

 

 

[299] ON October 1, 1958, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, an agency which had served its country for 43 years, came to an end. But its body and spirit were not dead. They were transformed by official fiat into the living heart of a new and more powerful organization, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Becoming part of NASA on that day were the approximately 8000 employees of the former agency together with $300 million worth of research facilities located at the late agency's three major laboratories and two field stations. At the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, the transfer included approximately 1450 people and a plant worth about $79 million.

But NACA transferred more than bodies and hardware on October 1, 1958. It transferred a scientific know-how that had won it a highly respected place in aeronautical circles and it transferred an integrity and an efficiency that had made it outstanding among Government agencies. It also transferred a frugality that had been impressed on it from its beginning as a small struggling agency by an economy-minded Congress. The efficiency and frugality acquired by NACA during the difficult years of growth had, indeed, become something of a handicap. The step-by-proven-step procedures used by NACA brought results at the lowest cost and greatest efficiency but not necessarily in the shortest time.

Certain other agencies to which Government funds were available had demonstrated that a rather high effectiveness could be achieved by a method employing multiple-path approaches, tons of money, and rather low efficiency. This method could perhaps be likened to shooting squirrels with a double-barreled shotgun; whereas NACA, with the pride of a professional hunter, had chosen to stalk the game and shoot it between the eyes with a .22 rifle. Certainly the shotgun method was effective and, if time was of the essence or the goal sufficiently important, its use might well be justified. And perhaps the space age with its keen competitive challenges was such an occasion. Certainly the Congress now appeared in the mood to Spend real money for space research. But the shotgun method was so foreign....

 


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Mar. 19, 1958, aerial view of NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory shortly before it became the NASA Ames Research Center.

Mar. 19, 1958, aerial view of NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory shortly before it became the NASA Ames Research Center. (1) Administration building, (2) Auditorium and cafeteria building, (3) Administration building annex, (4) Engineering and services building, (5) Low-density and heat-transfer wind tunnels, (6) 10- by 14-inch supersonic wind tunnel, (7) 12-foot pressure wind tunnel, auxiliaries building, (8) 12-foot pressure wind tunnel, (9) Fluid mechanics laboratory, (10) Supersonic free-flight wind tunnel, (11) Pressurized ballistic range, (12) Flight operations laboratory, (13) Airplane hangar and shop, (14) Structural fabrication shop, (15) Instrument research laboratory, (16) Model finishing shop, (17) 7- by 10-foot wind tunnel no. 1, (18) 7- by 10-foot wind tunnel no. 2 (19) 1- by 3 1/2-foot high-speed wind tunnel, (20) 14-foot transonic wind tunnel, (21) Electrical services building, (22) Technical services building, (23) 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel, (24) 2- by 2-foot transonic wind tunnel, (25) Hypervelocity ballistic range, (26) Atmosphere entry simulator, (27) Substation, (28) 6- by 6-foot supersonic wind tunnel, (29) Unitary Plan wind tunnels building, (30) 11-foot transonic wind tunnel, (31) 9- by 7-foot supersonic wind tunnel, (32) 8- by 7-foot supersonic wind tunnel, (33) Unitary Plan wind tunnels, auxiliaries building, (34) Hypervelocity airflow laboratory.


 

[301] ....to NACA that a serious question remained as to whether the agency's conservative management could bring itself to use it.

NACA was indeed conservative-not in its daring scientific conceptions, nor in the brilliance of its research techniques, but rather in the economically practical approach it used in the solution of problems. These qualities of strength, or weakness, represented an important part of the legacy that NACA bestowed on NASA in 1958. But however defined, the qualities conveyed would not be allowed to dominate NASA's operations. An Administrator from outside of NACA had been chosen to head the new agency.


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