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Spinoff 1997

Ames Research Center
NASA Headquarters and Centers

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Ames Research Center was founded in 1939 as an aircraft research laboratory by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). While retaining much of its original aeronautics orientation, the center has taken on an increasingly important role in the nation's space program since it became part of NASA when the Agency was founded in 1958.

Situated in Mountain View, California, near San Francisco, Ames was designated the NASA Center of Excellence for Information Technology. In that capacity, Ames's mission is to lead NASA efforts in cutting-edge research in supercomputing, networking, numerical computing software, artificial intelligence, and human factors in order to enable bold advances in both aeronautics and space.

In aeronautics, Ames is the NASA lead in Aviation Operations Systems, championing research efforts in air traffic control and human factors. The center also leads in rotor craft (helicopter) and powered-lift technologies. It has major responsibility in the creation of design and development tools, and for flight simulation, supercomputer consolidation, aeronautical computation and wind tunnel testing.

In space, Ames is NASA's lead center for astrobiology, spearheading research efforts to determine the effects of gravity on living things. Ames plays a major role in efforts to understand the origin, evolution and distribution of starts, planets and life in the universe; in ecosystem and atmospheric science in support of Mission to Planet Earth; and is leading NASA efforts in developing thermal protection systems for future access to space and for planetary atmospheric entry vehicles

Launched on March 2, 1972 and operated from Ames Research Center, Pioneer 10 reached Jupiter in December 1973. In March 1997, the hardy Pioneer 10 reached its 25th anniversary in space and a point 6.2 billion miles from Earth.


Ames is home to an impressive array of research facilities. This includes three national wind tunnels, including the world's largest; several advanced flight simulators; a variety of supercomputers, including some of the world's fastest; a suite of centrifuges that serve as a national resource; and several unique aircraft--both fixed-wing and rotor craft--used for aeronautical flight research and as flying scientific laboratories.

A look back to 1973 at Ames provides a snapshot of work in progress. In 1973, a joint NASA-Soviet Union study undertook to analyze ice flow, meteorological data and wildlife migration patterns in the Bering Sea. For this study Ames provided a Convair 990, a converted plane that was transformed into a research tool.

Far out in space, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft was hurling toward Jupiter, outward bound after liftoff on March 2, 1972. Operated from Ames Research Center, Pioneer 10 reached Jupiter in December 1973, then went on to become the most distant and longest-lived interplanetary explorer. Pioneer 11 was rocketed into space in April 1973, also bound for Jupiter, later to make history's first trip to Saturn, arriving in 1979.

In March 1997, the hardy Pioneer 10 reached its 25th anniversary in space and a point 6.2 billion miles from Earth. The Pioneer carries a message for any intelligent life forms that it might encounter on its sojourn across the galaxy. Affixed to the spacecraft is a plaque, depicting a man and a woman, a map of Earth's solar system, and other symbols which may help intelligent beings interpret the message, learn about the spacecraft's creators, and where they lived. The Pioneer 10 mission ended in March 1997 when power became too weak to transmit data back to Earth.

Early in the 1970s, the Illiac IV greatly strengthened the center's work in theoretical fluid mechanics, as well as concentrating superior computer strength at the center. Obtaining and locating Illiac IV--then the largest and most sophisticated computer in the world-was a coup for Ames. Thanks to an agreement with the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), part of the Defense Department, Ames was able to house and manage the computer complex, which was in full operation by early 1973.

America's aeronautics history is an undisputed success story in global competitiveness. To support the vital role of aircraft manufacturing, NASA created the Numerical Aerodynamic Simulation (NAS) facility in 1984. Ames is the locale for this world-class supercomputing capability, accessible to the nation's aeronautical researchers in government, industry and academia. Ames is resolute in developing faster, more powerful computing systems and to broaden American know-how as a national vision with no limits. The foundation for the work done at NAS is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). This involves using computers to study the fluid flow around an object, such as a wing or rotor blade. NAS supported the designers of most vehicles made in America today, from planes and rockets to cars. Incorporating the Ames CFD program as a tool for researchers has been noted as the start of a genuine revolution, the full consequences of which are still to be felt.

Ames space science researchers quite literally "took the plunge" on December 7, 1995. Galileo's atmospheric entry probe successfully measured Jupiter's atmosphere directly. This probe was developed and managed at Ames. The center's Galileo Probe Project conducted scientific and engineering studies enabling this most difficult atmospheric entry.

The Space Directorate at Ames is coordinating NASA research in the broad discipline called astrobiology, a relatively new term for studies of life in the universe. By way of Ames's Center for Mars Exploration, future Mars missions are being assessed, with emphasis on the search for life.

Major flight projects underway at Ames include biological research facilities for the International Space Station; Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a flying airborne astronomical laboratory with a 100-inch infrared telescope; Lunar Prospector, the first NASA mission to study the Moon since Apollo; and thermal protection system technology for today's Space Shuttle and tomorrow's single-stage-to-orbit, fully-reusable launchers.

Being centered in an area with one-fifth of the 100 fastest-growing international companies has offered Ames a distinct benefit in maintaining its outlook on future technologies. Achieving immense computing capacity is a critical national priority, and Ames has between 30 and 40 percent of NASA's entire supercomputing capability. This important national objective is perhaps best personified in the NASA High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program.

One measure of its computer competence is the center's lead role in the research and development efforts on the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative. By 2002, this initiative could result in information flowing a million times faster than today's modern home computer modems and 1,000 times faster than a current standard T1 business computer line.

As lead institution for NASA's portion of a three-year, $300 million federal project to develop the NGI, Ames joins other federal agencies in the venture, including the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Computational fluid dynamics are used to determine the effect of sideslip on the flow around an aircraft. Supercomputer design has the potential to be less costly and gives data not available from wind tunnels, such as greater detail on flight conditions.


Ultimately, the NGI should guarantee levels of service that would dissolve slowdowns and network stagnation. These slowdowns can make waiting for Internet images, movies and other services a tedious, time-consuming process. NGI would tie core sites with high speed lines, leading to GigaPOP interconnectivity across the country. GigaPOP is a regional group of core organizations that will connect their separate computer network systems by high speed communications lines. A POP is a point of presence. Giga stands for a billion computer bits.

An early step for the NGI is linking up some 100 universities, research labs and other institutions at a hundred times the speed of today. GigaPOP interconnects would continue to be enhanced to handle computer data at ever speedier rates, bringing about an Internet upgrade that can function at much higher speeds than today.

Ames Research Center's mission has grown as national needs for research and technology contributions have broadened. From civil and commercial aviation research, empowering users with the ability to move volumes of data via computer to exploring the very origins of life itself--these serve as tenets of a NASA research center poised for the 21st century.

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