AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVII , No. 2, Fall 2005


Pioneer 10 encounter with Jupiter, 1973. Photo courtesy of NASA.

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Materials in the History of Physics and Allied Sciences at the NASA Ames Research Center
by Leilani Marshall, Archivist

Physical sciences have long been central to the mission of the
NASA Ames Research Center. Ames Aeronautical Laboratory was founded in December 1939 along the southern shore of the San Francisco Bay, and hosted the world's greatest collection of wind tunnels. Renamed the NASA Ames Research Center in October 1958, researchers here provided quick answers to questions about flight along the supersonic and hypersonic frontier, especially to solve the problems of atmospheric re-entry.

Computer-simulated image of viscous flow about rotor and wing of the V-22 Osprey in hover. Photo courtesy of NASA.

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NASA Ames has managed some spectacularly successful spacecraft projectslike the Pioneer series of planetary explorers, the airborne infrared telescopes, the Viking Life Detection experiments, and the Galileo probe. Still, the Ames laboratories have served as NASA's primary repository of expertise in new sciences, enabling technologies, and component design. As America broadened its efforts in spaceflight and planetary exploration, Ames staff developed the necessary expertise in robotics, internetworking and information technology, supercomputing, computational fluid dynamics, computational chemistry, thermal protection, materials science, microelectronic mechanical systems, and now nanotechnology. Ames also served NASA's need for fundamental research in the life sciencesradiation biology, gravitational biology, human factors, planetary environments, and astrobiology.

The NASA Ames History Office was established in October 2003 to collect, preserve and explore the history of the Center. We built an archive in the high bay of a decommissioned wind tunnel, and began actively collecting material. Processed and ready for research are about 30 linear feet of reference materials spanning the history of the Center. This includes Center newsletters, press releases, technical summaries, brochures, and a few recorded interviews and presentations. Newer collections highlight the history of the Pioneer series of spacecraft—the first to encounter Jupiter, Saturn and the heliopause. Records describe the design and construction of the Pioneer spacecraft and instrumentation, and studies generated by the data returned on celestial mechanics, astrodynamics, and planetary geography. The History Office also houses a growing collection of artifacts.

The official repository for NASA Ames, as a federal entity, is the National Archives and Records Administration—Pacific Region (NARA), twenty miles north in San Bruno. The most complete Ames records at NARA deal with Ames as a laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and are a treasure trove of material on fluid mechanics, flight research, wind tunnel design, and precision instrumentation during the 1940s and 1950s. Early spaceflight is covered in a separate series of records at NARA (Record Group 255.4.1). Formerly classified Ames work in hypersonics and missile design prior to 1958 is covered in this series, as are the many Ames contributions to manned space-flight in the 1960s. Official records more recent than 1972 are housed in the Federal Records Center and controlled by the Ames record manager.

Finding Aids to materials at the NASA Ames Research Center and at NARA San Bruno are available at Also found there are links to NASA's legacy data archives, which should be the first stop for historians doing more internalist studies of the space life sciences and planetary sciences. The site also contains PDF files on the major histories of the Center, as well as a growing bibliography of research on the history of NASA Ames projects and researchers. For further information contact Leilani Marshall, Archivist, NASA Ames History Office, MS 207-1, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000, phone number 650-604-6430, or send e-mail to, Internet

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