Tech has a storied history with space involvement; the Institute has received funding for aerospace research from such notable programs as NASA and the Guggenheim fund, and many Tech grads have gone on to become astronauts.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit in October 1957, Americans were stunned and fascinated by the feat. Scientists at Georgia Tech, including Jesse James, an EES engineer, served as technology experts for local radio coverage. At the time, the U.S. space program was split between satellite-development work and rocket research. However, Sputnik’s launch changed history and the course of the space program.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formed in 1958 to bring all space-related technologies and research under one department. The heightened priority of developing space technology brought millions of dollars in research funding to research institutions across the nation, including Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech had already established itself in the aeronautics field. In 1930, the Guggenheim fund gave Georgia Tech a $300,000 award and made it the fund’s only school of aeronautics in the south. By the late 1950s, EES (now GTRI) researchers had already developed material from silica grains that could stand the shock of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere from space.

In 1959, Howard Edwards, a physics professor, was supervising Project Firefly, which investigated the effects of wind turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The Firefly researchers used special cameras, spectrographic equipment and radar to record the clouds’ behavior to measure windshear forces, speed and other factors.

Tech scientists were on hand for the first flight of the Saturn I’s second stage at Cape Canaveral in January 1964. The scientists analyzed the rocket engine’s performance at different levels in the atmosphere and the chemical reactions in the exhaust itself. In April of that year, NASA awarded Tech a $1,000,000 grant to build a space research facility. The Space Science and Technology Center (now the Knight building) opened in 1967. By the building’s opening, NASA had already spent $6.5 million at Tech and averaged $300,000 annually.

By 1965, Tech had its first astronaut in space, John Young, an alumni who graduated in 1952 with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. Young was a former Navy fighter pilot who was selected by NASA in 1962. He made his first flight into space with Gus Grissom on Gemini 3 on March 23, 1965. Young said his undergraduate studies prepared him for the rigorous training because he was already used to working unreasonably long hours and keeping his nose “to the grindstone” at Tech.

Continuing into the 1980s, scientists from Tech continued to perform groundbreaking research. In 1984, GTRI and the School of Electrical Engineering sent an assembly of lasers, films, holographic crystals and other electro-optic components on a tray for a metal degredation experiment.

NASA established the Georgia Space Grant Consortium in 1989 with Tech as one of its charter schools. The Georgia Space Grant Consortium established a national network of institutions involved in aerospace research and outstanding programs in related fields in science, math and technology.

Current professors have expanded on the work of their pioneers and continue working towards developing new space technologies today. John Olds, an Aerospace Engineering professor, founded the Georgia Tech Space System Design Lab (SSDL) in 1995. “What we’re trying to do is identify the critical technologies that will impact the next generation of space travel,” said Olds. The SSDL receives an average of $350,000 annually from corporations and NASA’s centers of excellence, including NASA Langley and NASA Marshall. The SSDL’s research interests include hypersonic air jets, a magnetic launch assist system, pulse rocket engines and vehicles for space travel.

Bob Roper, a professor in the school of Earth and Atmospheric sciences, studies the conditions rockets face in the upper atmosphere. His earlier work included a model for the space shuttle’s re-entry that he developed through a grant from NASA. NASA continues to use his model today.

Another renowned expert in the space technology field is Paul Steffes, a professor in the school of Electrical Engineering. Steffes uses a small satellite dish on top of the Van Leer Building to measure atmospheric effects on the Ka band, a frequency not previously used by satellites. Steffes’ work is part of the Advanced Communications Technologies Satellite Program devleoped by NASA in 1993.

For over 30 years, Ben Zinn has been working towards decreasing the noise from takeoffs. Zinn’s work in solving problems associated with combustion instability brought the School of Aersopace Engineering a designation as a center for excellence in combustion and propulsion.

As an associate director at the Johnson Space Center, John Young is currently working on 225 technical tasks. Many of his tasks include the investigation of new sources of power, reliable energy, recyclable materials, different transportation devices and inflatable engineering. “In this century we’ll end up building cities around the moon” said Young. Young said it is necessary to colonize other places in space due to the problems awaiting Earth in the upcoming centuries. Therefore, Young said it is important for scientists, researchers, students, especially those at Georgia Tech, to continue to work on developing new space technologies.