Behind the Scenes at NASA Glenn Research Center
Situated on 350 acres of land, not far from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, sits NASA Glenn Research Center’s Lewis Field – a world-class research facility that has unassumingly revolutionized spaceflight and air travel. With more than 150 buildings, Lewis Field is home to state-of-the-art research and testing facilities including wind tunnels, drop towers, vacuum chambers, as well as an aircraft hangar. Just 50 miles west of NASA Glenn’s Cleveland location is Plum Brook Station, a massive testing site covering 6,400 acres in Sandusky, Ohio. Plum Brook Station boasts a series of unique facilities designed to simulate the space environment. While the work taking place at these innovative facilities doesn’t tend to be highly publicized, NASA Glenn has played a major role in the evolution of space exploration and air travel, serving as an essential asset to the aerospace industry.
Not long ago, I had the privilege to see and tour NASA Glenn, witnessing first-hand the incredible technologies that have contributed so much to the aerospace field. While I am no rocket scientist, I was deeply impressed and intrigued by what I saw, giving me an even greater appreciation for the work conducted at NASA Glenn on a daily basis.
One of our first stops on the tour was at the Icing Research Tunnel (IRT) where their motto is “We freeze to please.”
NASA Glenn’s IRT boasts the world’s largest refrigerated wind tunnel, which is used to test flight safety conditions in freezing temperatures. The tunnel can generate wind speeds from 25 to more than 400 miles per hour! In operation since 1944, the wind tunnel has been hugely important in developing advancements to ensure safe air travel in icy conditions.
We then visited the Zero-G Facility, which holds one of two drop towers housed at NASA Glenn’s campus. Built during the space race era of the 1960s, the Zero-G Facility produces a near weightless environment, making it a powerful testing ground to study the effects of microgravity. The testing itself is conducted inside of a 467-foot long, steel vacuum chamber. The chamber is 20-feet in diameter and resides within a concrete lined shaft that extends 510 feet below ground. Just as the Zero-G Facility was originally built to test space flight components and fluid systems, much of the research conducted today is designed to support future space missions.
As an outsider looking in, it’s hard to fathom the extraordinary advancements and innovations that have been made possible in these many world-class research facilities. What felt like a movie set straight out of a science-fiction film is actually a staging ground for some of the most important air travel and space exploration research taking place today. Just as important, as Ohio boasts a $3.2 billion aviation and aerospace industry, NASA Glenn serves as a key economic asset fueling cutting-edge research that is being used to innovate the technologies of tomorrow.
So, are you interested in getting your own behind-the-scenes tour? Now through October of 2017, NASA Glenn is offering the public a chance to see its inner-workings as they provide monthly tours to interested parties. According to Glenn’s website, tours are a unique blend of education and entertainment. If you have an opportunity to attend, I guarantee NASA Glenn will not disappoint. For additional information and a listing of monthly tour dates, visit NASA Glenn’s website.