NASA’s Ames Research Center will host a media opportunity from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 12, to commemorate Ames’ contributions to the space shuttle on its 20th anniversary. Employees who played a key role in developing a variety of technologies for the space shuttle will be available for interviews. Reporters interested in scheduling a telephone or in-person interview should contact Ann Hutchison at 650-604-3039. To reach Ames, take Highway 101 to the Moffett Field exit. Follow the exit to the main gate. Stop at Visitor Badging, to the right of the main gate, and receive a visitor badge and a map with directions. Non-U.S. media must bring passports and press identification and will be escorted at all times.

Note to Editors: 01-22AR

NASA Ames to Mark Space Shuttle’s 20th Anniversary

On April 12, NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley is set to commemorate a historic milestone in the human exploration of space. On that date in 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. And in 1981, April 12 saw the first orbital flight of NASA’s space shuttle.

When space shuttle Columbia returned from that first trip into space on April 14, 1981, a group of Ames engineers breathed a collective sigh of relief. Columbia’s 2-day, 6-hour flight validated the work of the Ames team in helping to solve problems involving ascent aerodynamics, atmospheric reentry and the control of the shuttle during its approach and landing. Ames also led the effort to develop materials that protect the shuttle astronauts from temperatures in excess of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit during its fiery return to Earth.

Several employees will be available to talk about Ames’ efforts on April 12, the 20th anniversary of the launch of STS-1. Those available for interviews will include

  • Thomas Alderete, chief, Simulation Experiments Branch
  • Dr. James Arnold, chief, Space Technology Division
  • Jack Boyd, former associate director of Ames Research Center and currently executive assistant to the Ames director
  • Howard Goldstein, former chief, Thermal Protection Systems Branch
  • G. Joseph Hartman, chief, Thermophysics Facilities Branch
  • Dr. Dan Leiser, materials scientist
  • David Stewart, materials scientist

Ames has played a major role in the development of the space shuttle since its inception in the spring of 1969. Development of the thermal protection system is believed by many to be the key to making the space shuttle the world’s first reusable reentry vehicle. Because the shuttle’s airframe is flexible like an aircraft, with complex curves, engineers had to develop a new class of heat shield materials that rejected heat without ablating, or burning away.

Ames’ expertise in other areas – such as aerodynamics and guidance and control — also made the center well suited to advancing the development of the shuttle. Ames supported aerodynamics studies with more than 10,000 hours of testing in seven of its wind tunnels before the award of the shuttle design and construction contract in 1972. More than 25,000 hours of testing were conducted after this date.

The shuttle was the first airplane-like entry vehicle with movable control surfaces. Ames personnel with guidance and control expertise took on the task of investigating guidance and control concepts that might compensate for the shuttle’s less-than-ideal aerodynamics. Astronauts and other pilots used Ames simulators to verify and refine the guidance and control system and to gain experience in shuttle-type landings. In addition, space shuttle trainees spent 50 weeks in the Ames simulator studying handling qualities during landing. At the time, Ames managed the Dryden Flight Research Facility in southern California, which served as the primary test facility and landing site for all early shuttle flights.

Today, Ames is continuing its commitment to developing and advancing space shuttle systems in the areas of aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics, thermal protection systems, simulator support and cockpit upgrades.

Images of some of Ames’ contributions are available at