NASA Ames Marks 70th Birthday

A P3 Navy aircraft with Hanger One at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.  (Copyright 2008: Douglas Messier)
A P3 Navy aircraft with Hanger One at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. (Copyright 2008: Douglas Messier)


NASA’s Ames Research Center was launched 70 years ago as a high-speed aeronautics research laboratory as part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and was named after NACA’s chair, Joseph S. Ames. The center was the second NACA aeronautics research center in the United States.

The world may have changed dramatically since 1939, but one thing remains constant: the center’s bold spirit of innovation.

“History is made by those who are willing to take risks and break the mold,” said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames. “I’m proud to be a part of a center that has paved the way for advances in aeronautics and space travel, and I look forward to the next 70 years of innovation.”

Jack Boyd joined Ames in 1947 and today serves as senior advisor to the center director as well as historian. Boyd recalls when R.T. Jones came up with the idea of a swept-wing.

“People thought he was crazy and would say, ‘birds’ wings aren’t shaped like that,’” said Boyd. “Well, birds also don’t fly too fast.”

Today, the swept wing is now used on all high-speed aircraft.

In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed and the center became NASA Ames Research Center. Boyd said a lot of the behind-the-scenes research going on at Ames during the 1950s and 1960s greatly contributed to the speed at which NASA was able to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s.

“The blunt-body concept and materials designed to withstand extreme heat for atmospheric reentry and a lunar guidance system all played a role in the successful Apollo missions,” said Boyd. He added that Neil Armstrong practiced his lunar landings at Ames in the Vertical Motion Simulator.

The future looks bright for NASA Ames Research Center, with ongoing research converting algae to biofuel, developments in ‘green aviation’ and the construction of Sustainability Base—an environmentally friendly workspace that will have a platinum rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

To commemorate NASA Ames’ platinum anniversary, Mountain View businesses are featuring exhibits of the center’s colorful history at 12 locations and a 70th anniversary banner hangs above Castro Street in downtown Mountain View.

January festivities include a panel of past center directors on Jan. 22, 2010 and a gala dinner on Jan. 23, 2010. William Ballhaus, a former center director and expert on computational fluid dynamics, and Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, will be guest speakers. Tickets for the dinner are $135 per person and include a three-course dinner and gift bag filled with a commemorative book, DVD and coin.

The 70th anniversary festivities conclude on Jan. 28, 2010 with a 1930s themed celebration, an antique car parade and a one-man play depicting the past innovators at Ames.