A Visit to the NASA Ames Research Center

My colleague Charles Murray (Senior Technical Editor for Design News) recently had a marvelous opportunity to visit NASA's Ames Research Center. It's located in the Silicon Valley, north of Sunnyvale and Mountain View, Calif. — specifically, at Moffett Field.

Charles had the chance to visit along with some randomly selected engineers and the good folks at Littlefuse. Ten winners were drawn and visited the Ames facility on August 15. Ten more will be selected to visit Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on October 24. This is part of Littlefuse's Speed2Design contest. My colleague Steve Taranovich wrote about the contest and about the Ames Research Center in an article in EDN.

Charles had the opportunity to look behind the scenes. He got to walk through test facilities that any engineer would love to play in. Upon arriving, he saw this giant Faraday cage that NASA had built.

(Source: Design News)

(Source: Design News)

He was also able to see these giant fans that NASA uses to cool its super computers. Note the tiny engineers standing in front.

(Source: NASA Ames/Tom Trower)

(Source: NASA Ames/Tom Trower)

And this dazzling array of video screens that NASA used when it invented the first video game, Pong (just another commercial off-shoot from space research).

(Source: NASA Ames)

(Source: NASA Ames)

Conceivably, I may have misread my notes regarding these pictures. For more details (and more accuracy) have a look at Charles's slideshow here.

27 comments on “A Visit to the NASA Ames Research Center

  1. Davidled
    August 21, 2013

    The picture is fantastic. As I know that NASA has stopped space launch program in the future. Then they might be space provider for vendor and other company to support their project as renting the Lab and some equipment. I believe that they are a real good lab and facility with engineer resource.  One of good example might be SpaceX.

  2. fasmicro
    August 21, 2013

    @Daej – It may turn out that SpaceX may not find some of the equipment useful as they may not be modern enough.

  3. goafrit2
    August 21, 2013

    NAA Ames Research Center also has a “university” – Singularity University which is picking pace in global innovation. They offer some really nice executive education. Always concerned how govt exited the space world.

  4. BillWM
    August 22, 2013

    Johnson Space Center, and Whitesands were both very interesting —  The kids were a little young for whitesands when we went through there, but the son seemed to enjoy the tour of JSC.

  5. Brad_Albing
    August 22, 2013

    @DaeJ – Good point regarding the use of their facilities to do testing. The wind tunnel is a perfect example of that — not everyone has one of those.

  6. Netcrawl
    August 22, 2013

    I like the works of SpaceX, they're trying to make a much cheaper way of  space exploration, they got very good rocket technology and top engineers. Its good to see private companies getting involved in space industry.  

  7. Netcrawl
    August 22, 2013

    @Brad you're right there! NASA's AMES Research Center has some of the best wind tunnels, it play a critical role in the NASA's space missions. Its American premier testing ground for space craft and top secret aircraft, and some aerodynamic works. 

    AMES provide NASA with some great advancements in th entry systems, landing tcehnologies and next-generation aviation development.

  8. samicksha
    August 22, 2013

    Good point Daej, Besides NASA contracts, SpaceX has signed contracts with private sector companies, non-American government agencies and the American military for its launch services, curious tp see NASA robotic mission to Mars in 2018.

  9. Brad_Albing
    August 22, 2013

    @Netcrawl – exactly so. Perhaps I'll do a blog on the top-secret aircraft that they on running tests on.

  10. Brad_Albing
    August 23, 2013

    @Samicksha- regarding a Mars mission, that reminds me that I will be preparing at least one blog soon on radiation hardened ICs.

  11. SunitaT
    August 24, 2013

    At the Prognostics Lab, NASA Ames engineers use an electromechanical actuator test stand that enables them to study ball screw jams, spalling, and abnormal wear, as well as electronics and power failures. There is a test bed for a Boeing 727 aileron wing section. Earlier this year, NASA sent three smartphones into space, where they will serve as low-cost satellites. The smartphone satellites, or PhoneSats, will take pictures of Earth using their cameras. Amateur radio operators around the world can participate in the missions by monitoring their transmissions

  12. eafpres
    August 25, 2013

    I think NASA is one of the few orgainizations anywhere, in the history of humans, to have thought so BIG, and built test facilities to check their thinking.  I've also seen photos of vacuum chambers big enough for an Apollo upper stage and command module.  I'm not really up on what the future is for NASA.  They are still deeply involved in space research, planetary missions, and asteriod mining.

    One of the challenges is to transition to private enterprise performing space missions, but still retaining R&D.  In addition, there is a challenge to apply their knowledge, facilites, and capabilities to other large scale problems besides space flight.  There is a lot of this going on for sure.  But it seems that in many ways NASA has fallen out of favor–the assumption was they could NOT develop cheap missions–the real issue was they were NOT tasked with that.  NASA has done everything they ever put their minds to, technology and mission wise.  

    All that said, I have criticized NASA's involvment, by way of the FAA, in “studying” the issues around allow UAVs in the commercial airspace.  Perhaps I have been too quick to that conclusion–seeing the work on air-traffic modeling and thinking of their capability to do BIG, perhaps they can help.

  13. samicksha
    August 27, 2013

    Thanks Brad, seems interesting moving from device to radiation.

  14. RichQ
    August 27, 2013

    When my brother was on a conract with NASA, there was an engineer who really WAS playing a video game on the big screens and who was severly disciplined for it. But the temptation clearly still remains. It does look like it would be fun…


    Nah, better stick with my 60-inch LCD.

  15. Brad_Albing
    August 27, 2013

    @Rich Q – yep – less likely to get in trouble. Except maybe with the wife. Also, possible danger of whiplash if you're sitting to close to the screen.

  16. RichQ
    August 27, 2013

    At least the glaucoma caused by radiation and secondary electrons from the front of the CRT won't be made any worse by the LDC monitor. Whiplash, though. That does sound like a real concern…

  17. RedDerek
    August 27, 2013

    Brad, I believe the first picture is of one of the blimp hangars before the skin was added. These buildings are so big that they create their own weather pattern within. I remember when the first Mars probe landed and NASA had an open house with first photos being shown on a huge screen within the blimp hangar.

    Second photo look more like the large wind tunnel fan set used to test the 1/3 model of the space shuttle – which should be outside the wind tunnel. They have one wind tunnel that goes to mach 10+ I believe. (But this is dusting some cobwebs out of the brain.)

    The facility is a nice haven for testers. Not sure how much modern stuff is there now with all the cut-backs.


  18. Brad_Albing
    August 28, 2013

    @RQ – and even if glaucoma became a concern, I expect you could lay your hands on a cure up there in your neck of the woods.

  19. Brad_Albing
    August 28, 2013

    @RedDerek – well, I was kidding about the Farady cage. Just a bit of silliness to draw attention to myself….

  20. RedDerek
    August 29, 2013

    The big Faraday cage that I do know exist is down off the 405 on the north side of San Fernando Valley, just south of the 5-405 split. It is used to sheild the conversion of the high-voltage dc to ac voltage for the LA power grid. One cannot miss it too easily. If the cage was not there, they say the EMI that radiates could wipe out TV and cell phone signals for at least a mile around the facility.

  21. Brad_Albing
    August 29, 2013

    @RedDerek – I did not know about that one. I'll have to drive by on my next visit.

  22. RedDerek
    August 29, 2013

    @B_Albing – Back in my college days I had the opportunity to visit the power generation facilities that fed the LA grid. I still have the book I got from 1986. The facility is part of the HVDC transmission system that is fed from south-east Oregon. Quite a long distance for power transmission. But to go further would take a blog, even though my knowledge is based on stuff 30+ years ago, I see it still being used in places like China.

  23. fasmicro
    September 16, 2013

    >>I like the works of SpaceX, they're trying to make a much cheaper way of  space exploration

    Imagine if the world could have the same quality we have in SpaceX in the medical field. That will knock-out some of the deadly diseases out of this planet. Elon Musk is a legend and he deserves a lot of credit.

  24. fasmicro
    September 16, 2013

    >> Perhaps I'll do a blog on the top-secret aircraft that they on running tests on

    Do you want to go there? Top-secret is top secret. But I think generally they will find ways to make aircrafts that will be faster, cheaper and crash-insensitive. With newer technologies, aircraft designs may evolve. Waiting to read this blog though.

  25. fasmicro
    September 16, 2013

    >> I think NASA is one of the few orgainizations anywhere, in the history of humans

    Another is CERN in Europe. These institutions show the golden age of government-suported scientific research. National Institutes of Health has a buget of about $15B, but prefers to award grants. That is a good idea but I wish one day they understand that having this cells of experts could be less effective than having a program as in NASA where people are put in one room to solve problems.

  26. Netcrawl
    September 16, 2013

    You know what next here? I think Elon Musk could be the next Steve Jobs of the Space industry, he has this great mind which help drive innovation. 

  27. fasmicro
    September 25, 2013

    I think Elon Musk is bigger than Steve Jobs at least for our industry. This guy builds things. Steve coordinates things. From Tesla to SpaceX, Elon Musk may be the finest mind in engineering today.

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