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NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA


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#1 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:00 PM

This summer I was invited to tour the NASA Langley Research Center at Hampton, VA.

 

I'd looked forward to this for sometime.  As a kid I grew up during the great Space Race.  My father was an accountant for General Electric's Missile and Space Division.  Mercury, Gemini, Apollo... all of these were part of my upbringing.

 

Langley, as the name states, is a research facility.  If you go there you will most likely not see finished spacecraft.  Instead you see building after building of laboratories ranging from wind tunnels to lasers.  All of this to seek out what we don't know about space travel and how best to make it safe for our astronauts and space craft.

 

Even driving past it, you will see miles of pipeline, huge storage tanks and miles of industrial equipment.

 

Inside the buildings, they are often crowded with more pipes, heavy metal test stands and bracing, cables running everywhere. 

 

It is an engineer's ultimate playground.

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#2 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:04 PM

When you are wandering the hallways of buildings you have no doubt about where you are at.  They are plastered with large graphics everywhere explaining one esoteric project after another. 

 

There are concept models as well, such as this proposed roving vehicle which I believe is intended for Mars.  As you can see it is a considerable upgrade from your father's lunar rover.

 

The NASA logo is everywhere.

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#3 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:06 PM

Solutions to problems that have yet to arise are all under detailed study.  Here is a proposal to grow food for an exploration station on Mars.

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#4 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:14 PM

Our first stop was the largest wind tunnel on Langley, the 14 x 22 foot subsonic that borders the edge of the center. 

 

The size may not sound that large, but we were able to step inside of it.  I suspect that is the minimum size of the chamber, as both the floor and the side walls can be raised or lowered. 

 

When it is in operation, the friction generated by the wind tunnel can raise temperatures well over 200 degrees.  If fine adjustments are needed to the target model, they have to allow it to cool down before entering.

 

Our guide told us that the facility is often in demand and has to be booked months in advance.  A full day of work here will run a client $28,000 to $32,000.  That tends to reduce the number of potential customers down a bit, but they stay busy.  If the work is proprietary for a specific company, they foot the bill.  If the results can be shared with industry, NASA may split the bill.

 

They were quite proud to point out that one of their clients was NASCAR which spent time there evaluating the wind flow around various race car bodies.

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#5 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:18 PM

The 14 x 22 facility has its own model making shop.  "Model" here means a precise copy of anything from a full sized wing to a scaled down aircraft.  While it is hard to gauge from the photo, this airliner model was about 15 feet long or so. 

 

Past models are on display at a number of museums around the country.

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#6 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:21 PM

In contrast, this Jules Verne looking contraption was one of the first wind tunnels installed at Langley.  It was removed from its original building and preserved on the grounds of the Center.  Models were sealed inside and exposed to a controlled airflow while observers watched through portholes on the side.

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#7 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:25 PM

Preserved inside of one of the more modern buildings is this massive wooden propeller that powered another wind tunnel.

 

This floorspace was an "inspiration area" similar to what you might find on a college campus.  All of those book cases are mounted on wheels and can be turned to provide a whiteboard on the back side.  Some of them had scientific jokes and graffiti on them!

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#8 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:31 PM

After lunch we were shown the historic hanger building.  It is on the National Register because it was used for testing a prototype of the Lunar Lander suspended from a gantry in the ceiling.  It's still up there.

 

NASA actually saves money by acquiring most of its aircraft from other government agencies.  You can see here a Gulfstream III that is still in the colors of the Executive Fleet.  The interior was done with wood and the seats were worthy of your favorite chair in your den.  Despite that level of luxury, NASA will modify it by cutting holes in the bottom of it for dropping instruments, added windows for laser measuring devices and other changes to make it a scientific platform.

 

The other aircraft shows NASA colors.

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#9 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:36 PM

Curiously, there were four OV-10 aircraft in various color schemes.  There was one on the ramp in full NASA colors, but I was unable to photograph it due the secure area behind it.  The three other were in the hanger, two of them in grey and the oldest one in green.

 

The story we were told was originally these were obtained from the military.  At a later date, the military asked to borrow them back for missions unknown.  They were returned, but before they could be put back in to NASA use they have been reslated for foreign military use.  These are some well traveled aircraft.

 

Please note the mix of civilian and military markings, especially on the older OV-10A.

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#10 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:37 PM

More of the OV-10A.

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#11 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:45 PM

From the hanger, we went to the Landing and Impact Research facility, commonly called "The Gantry".

 

It is a huge steel skeletal structure.  Mockups of spacecraft, or more recently actual aircraft fuselages, are suspended in the air and held by three cables.  At a precise, computer controlled moment, the rear cable releases swinging the target object forward.  Once it reaches a specific point, explosive bolts fire and cut the two suspending cables.  Speed and angle are precisely calculated, and cameras record how the object descends and impacts.

 

The facility features both dirt and water landings. 

 

As of this writing, this facility is still in use.  Although historic, its future is uncertain due to the cost that would be involved in painting and updating it.

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#12 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:48 PM

I am standing next to one of the test vehicles used for such drop testing.

 

The backside of the facility has this huge board with precise squares that are one foot by one foot.  This is used for graphing the speed of the falling object.  The round symbols are used to mark specific test points.

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#13 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:49 PM

Last stop on the tour was this demonstration of an inflatable habitat structure that might be used for an exploration base on Mars. 

 

Various materials and coverings are experimented with to determine durability and the ability to block radiation.

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#14 gwb123

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 03:53 PM

That's the quick view of some of the things we saw that day.  Around every corner there was something new and different to see.

 

NASA Langley is a secured facility and generally not open to the public.

 

There is mention on their website that they may allow an open house this coming October to celebrate their Centennial. 

 

https://www.nasa.gov/langley

 

I hope you enjoyed these photos. 

 

And remember...

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#15 The Meatcan

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 07:55 PM


 

Really fascinating, Gil. That would be an incredible place to visit. Thanks for sharing with us!

Terry



#16 USARV72

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 03:49 AM

Gil, thanks for sharing, Langley is an interesting visit. Make it to the " War Museum " down the road in New Port News?

#17 BEAST

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 06:47 AM

Thanks Gil for posting these. My one take away is that the US is still seriously studying a manned exploration of Mars!

#18 gwb123

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 07:27 AM

Thanks Gil for posting these. My one take away is that the US is still seriously studying a manned exploration of Mars!

 

Very much so.  But it sounds like they are on a split track looking at both the Moon and Mars.



#19 gwb123

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 07:29 AM

Gil, thanks for sharing, Langley is an interesting visit. Make it to the " War Museum " down the road in New Port News?

 

No... only had a week on the ground, and I am sure you are well aware of how much there is to do and see in the area.  We did drive past it more than once, but I had to to go with the agenda set by my family.  We'll be going back.



#20 gwb123

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 07:35 AM

 

Really fascinating, Gil. That would be an incredible place to visit. Thanks for sharing with us!

Terry

 

I wish I had taken more photos of the physical plant itself just to convey the overwhelming amount of industrial and experimental equipment that is there.  

 

While we were touring the wind tunnel, we kept running into a young engineer who had just been hired and was being escorted around by her sponsor.  She had this big grin on her face every time we saw her, and without the chance to talk to her you could just tell she couldn't wait to get started.  She looked like a kid at Christmas or who had just won the first prize at the county fair.

 

When we ate at the cafeteria, there were a number of young interns there for the summer.  It was like being on set for The Big Bang Theory... smart young people with a lot of energy.   Of course, there were the experienced hands there as well, ranging from professorial types to the fitters and machinists who made the designs come to life.  It was quite the combination of talent. 



#21 mikie

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 07:46 AM

Thanks for the tour report.  Money spent on space exploration is probably the best investment we could make.  But it really needs focus, direction and firm leadership.  Things sadly lacking for a long time. 

mikie



#22 USARV72

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 01:40 PM

Gil, when you return also try to take a day for the " Mariner's Museum ", up the road from the " War Museum ". Back in the day our group was paid to display at Langley and Mariners museums. We worked closely with the " War Museum", restoring a few of their vehicles,268th and I have tons of memories. Met many great military men, General Westmoreland was a great person.

#23 gwb123

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 03:17 PM

Gil, when you return also try to take a day for the " Mariner's Museum ", up the road from the " War Museum ". Back in the day our group was paid to display at Langley and Mariners museums. We worked closely with the " War Museum", restoring a few of their vehicles,268th and I have tons of memories. Met many great military men, General Westmoreland was a great person.

 

Stay tuned.  The Mariner's Museum is the site of the USS Monitor Center, and my brother and I did visit there.  I just have to get the pictures posted.  We spent all day on that side of the facility, and then flew through the rest of the museum in about 45 minutes on the way out.  Highly recommended. 



#24 skautdog

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Posted 17 August 2018 - 03:28 PM

Gil,

Thanks for sharing. Nice update for me. I grew up in Hampton when the original Mercury Astronauts were training at Langley. Seemed like everyone had one of them living in there neighborhood or worked with them back in those days. You may have noticed all the bridges named afer the original Mercury folks..Your description and pictures are certainly encouragement for anyone in the area to take a Langley NASA tour.

Thanks for sharing.

As indicated above sooooo much military and other history in that area.




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