Lisa Gibson and her daughter Cassidy made the 11-hour trip from Illinois to NASA’s Langley Research Center for the 95th Anniversary Open House. Cassidy, an 8th grader who wants to be an astrophysicists when she gets older, wanted to meet an astronaut.
“One day, I’d like to discover something that has never been discovered before,” Cassidy said.
“And then she’ll name it after her mom,” Lisa followed up jokingly.
Peggy and Jobe Metts traveled from North Carolina to expose their children to some of NASA’s work and get them excited about science. Peggy’s brother and sister-in-law, Ran and Karen Cabell work at NASA Langley.
While working as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Navy, Fred Lassen was running a half-marathon with Jerry Linenger when Linenger decided that he wanted to become an astronaut. Decades later, Lassen, who now runs a private practice, took advantage of a behind-the-scenes look at NASA Langley.
“It’s not often that you can come here and see everything that’s happening first-hand,” Lassen said.
The last time NASA’s Langley Research Center was opened to the public was in 2007 for the 90th Anniversary. And the next opportunity may not be until 2017, for the 100th anniversary.
About 10,000 people found a reason to attend the free event on Saturday. Foot traffic covered the sidewalks, with guests having the option of 21 tour stops, and dozens of hands-on activities and exhibits.
Hundreds waited their turn to meet Astronaut Anna Fisher, the first mom in space.
“With the way technology is progressing, who can imagine what will happen in the next 100 years?” Fisher said. “It’s an exciting time to be a young person.”
Guests of all ages looked attentive as they controlled robots built by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) participants, and programmed Lego Mindstorms, Bee-Bots and RoamerBots. Many built their own racecar and attempted to land safely on mars with NASA’s Mars Rover Landing game for Xbox. They enjoyed interactive science shows about physics and aerospace and took a trip through the Journey to Tomorrow trailer.
Employees took pride in their work as they explained aspects of the unique capabilities that their facility provides the agency. Visitors toured a high-speed wind tunnel, the 8-Foot High Temperature Tunnel and a low-speed tunnel, the 14-by-22-Foot Subsonic Tunnel. They also toured the world’s largest pressurized cryogenic wind tunnel, the National Transonic Facility (NTF).
At the 14-by-22, Zach, a fourth grader from Suffolk measured the temperature and pressure of his hand before traveling to the second floor, where he saw a future transport configuration model which was set in place for future noise measurements.
At other facilities, guests learned about spacecraft entry heating, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electromagnetics waves, materials and structures, manufacturing and fabrication, and they learned about NASA’s Digital Learning Network, which connects students and educators with NASA education specialists and experts for real-time interaction.
Guests learned that Langley’s Science Directorate is home to world-renowned researchers and that their data is used to help solve some of Earth’s biggest problems. In the afternoon, hundreds attended a demonstration drop test of Orion at the water basin at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility.
Guests were also able to visit some of the center’s historic landmarks, such as the Gemini Rendezvous Docking Simulator used by Gemini and Apollo astronauts to practice docking space capsules with other vessels, which is still suspended from Langley’s Flight Research Hangar bay ceiling.
Such landmarks have made Langley famous in the 95 years since its inception as the nation’s first civilian aeronautics research lab in 1917, when America’s space program was born.
The doors first opened as Langley Field 95 years ago with a staff of 11, as the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics. Today, about 3,400 civil service and contract employees at NASA’s Langley Research Center work across all of NASA’s mission areas to help revolutionize aviation; expand knowledge of climate change; and extend human presence in space with the hopes of creating a better future for all of humankind.
“When you leave today, I hope you have a sense of pride in the contributions made by NASA, and that you find yourself curious, excited and inspired about the great things that lie ahead,” said Center Director Lesa Roe.