SP-4304 SEARCHING THE HORIZON: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1976




[ix] This is a book about a remarkable institution. It captures the soul of the place and the work of the people who made it what it is today.

The NASA Ames Research Center has been in business for over 40 years and during that time a great many important contributions have been made by people at Ames to both the aeronautical and space missions of NASA. In the early years, the focus of the center's work was in the area of high-speed flight and ultimately led to the creation of the superb fighter aircraft that were used toward the end of World War II and in the Korean conflict. The continuation of the effort to understand how objects move rapidly through the atmosphere resulted in the development of the blunt-body atmospheric entry concept, which was used first on military ballistic missiles and later on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. And, continuing this tradition, Ames played a large part in the development of the reusable thermal protection system of the Space Shuttle. The interest in high-speed flight and atmospheric entry created the necessity to understand the behavior of high-temperature plasmas; that, in turn, resulted in the first Pioneer spacecraft to measure the solar plasma, the later Pioneers to the outer solar system, and the Pioneer Venus atmospheric entry experiment. Finally, it was recognized very early that high-speed flight stressed the human body and that understanding biological mechanisms and human physiology was important. This led to the contributions made by people at Ames to aviation safety, space medicine, and space biology. The interest in biology also stimulated thinking about the origin of life itself and resulted in the strong participation of people at Ames in the search for biological activity on Mars with the Viking landers.

These examples of the development of various interests at Ames illustrate the astonishing versatility of the people who have worked there. It is not unusual to find someone mentioned in this book who started a career as an aeronautical engineer and completed it with a distinguished reputation in a completely different field-for example, geophysics. Fundamental to the ability to do this is a clear recognition that it is most important to seek for the explanation of things from the most fundamental theoretical viewpoint. The people at Ames have always seen to it that the atmosphere conducive to fundamental theoretical studies exists. In recent years, this circumstance caused the creation at Ames of one of the most advanced computer centers in the country.

Throughout the history of Ames, its people have made important contributions to national security. It is no accident therefore that the U.S. Army's Aviation Research and Development Laboratory is located at Ames [x] and that this laboratory has been an important factor in the history and development of the research center.

In the last analysis, however, an institution such as Ames is, as it were, the "shadow in time" of its creator; and the shadow cast by Smith De France, the first director, is long indeed. De France understood, above all else, the importance of quality. Important technical work can only be performed by people of the highest quality. He saw to it that the quality of the staff at Ames was maintained at the highest level throughout his years as director. This resulted in the elegance and the intellectual integrity that has characterized the work of the people at Ames.

For my own part, I am proud to have had a part in the continuing growth and development of the Ames Research Center. I shall always treasure the memories of the years I spent there.


Hans Mark
Deputy Administrator
April 1983