According to an article in the Mountain View Voice [online edition], NASA Ames Research Center will pass 70 years of existence this Sunday. In 1939, a small group of aeronautical engineers took over part of Moffett Field in order to perform cutting edge research in aeronautics. 70 years later, they’re still at it!
NASA Ames was built by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA’s forerunner until 1958) as the U.S. sought to compete with the Germans in aeronautical research. In 1941, the first wind tunnel constructed at Ames was immediately put to use working on World War II fighter planes, including the P-51 Mustang, which had an aerodynamically induced vibration fixed by Ames researchers.
The article goes on to pay special tribute to the NASA Advanced Supercomputing division based at Ames [albeit dimly].
The NASA Advanced Supercomputer division has helped to mothball some of Ames’ wind tunnels, however.
The new Pleiades supercomputer, along with two older, smaller supercomputers, take up a space the size of an average grocery store at Ames. With the computing capacity of over 300,000 personal computers — 88.9 teraflops — Pleiades can do virtual studies of aircraft aerodynamics, make hurricane predictions and much more, said division chief Rupak Biswas.
Pleiades stands ready for emergency calculations during every NASA space flight, calculating, for example, whether damage to the space shuttle’s heat shield will keep it from being able to withstand reentry. Computer images are displayed on the “hyperwall,” a set of 49 LCD displays with rendering power equal to 589 Xbox video game consoles.
Despite advances in computer technology, engineers at the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel nearby said they are still quite busy testing scale aircraft models for the military and for companies like Boeing and Lockheed. The Boeing 787 “Dreamliner,” which made its first flight Tuesday, was extensively tested here.
Engineers said computer modeling just isn’t completely trusted yet over the tried-and-true methods of wind tunnel testing.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of Ames, read the full article here.