The work (research and development) of each directorate gets divided among 10 centers across the country. Each center has its own director, staff (administration, procurement, public affairs), and responsibilities. First, we'll look at each research center in more detail.
Ames Research Center (ARC) in Moffett Field, California was founded in 1939 as an aeronautical research center, Ames focuses on researching new technologies to make NASA missions possible. These technologies include space biology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, heat protection systems for spacecraft and aircraft, information technology and astrobiology.
Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) in Edwards, Calif., conducts aeronautical research and flight operations. At DFRC, test pilots have flown all the new experimental aircraft. For example, General Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X-1 in 1947. The X-15 rocket plane was tested and flew to the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere and back. Today, aircraft such as the Altair unmanned aerial vehicle and the X-48 blended wing body are being tested. Besides aircraft, DFRC tests the launch abort systems for the Orion spacecraft.
Boeing's X-48B Blended Wing Body technology demonstrator shows off its unique lines at sunset on Rogers Dry Lake adjacent to NASA DFRC.
Deep Space 1 with the NSTAR Ion Engine
- various wind tunnel facilities for aeronautical and aerospace research
- develop service module and adapter for Orion spacecraft
- develop launch and ascent abort systems for Orion spacecraft
- develop and test electrical power systems and instruments for the upper stage of Ares launch vehicle that will lift the Orion spacecraft
- research fluid flow and combustion for rocket propulsion
- test and evaluate materials in upper atmosphere and space environments
- develop electrical and nuclear space-propulsion concepts
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., conducts robotic explorations of the solar system. Virtually all of America's unmanned space missions have been planned, designed, built, and operated by JPL. JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared telescope) as well as several ground-based telescopes including the Keck interferometer (dual telescopes) in Hawaii. JPL built and operates NASA Deep Space Tracking Network to receive communications from unmanned spacecraft throughout the solar system and beyond.
The Cassini-Hyugens mission to Saturn
Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Virginia, conducts aviation and space research. Scientists at LaRC develop airframes and study how layers of aircraft/spacecraft behave as they fly through the atmosphere of Earth and other planets using wind tunnels. Langley research also focuses on aviation safety, aerospace vehicle technologies and quiet aircraft technology.
Next, we'll look at NASA's flight centers.