Slice of History Blogs

Slice of History Blogs

Archivist Julie Cooper shares historical photos from the JPL Archives. Learn more about JPL history and explore the archives at https://beacon.jpl.nasa.gov/.


Induction Wind Tunnel, 1947

Reports and brochures about the history of aerodynamic facilities at JPL usually identify the 12-inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel as the first wind tunnel at JPL.

Reports and brochures about the history of aerodynamic facilities at JPL usually identify the 12-inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel as the first wind tunnel at JPL.  It went into operation in 1949.  However, in October 1947, this small induction wind tunnel was being used in studies of air-fuel combustion and turbulence.  Studies were conducted by Division 2 (Thermal Jet Propulsion), which included Section 1 (Research Analysis), Section 10 (Ramjet), and Section 13 (Wind Tunnels).

This wind tunnel was located in building 106, also known as the Thermal Jet Test Cell.  The cooling tower for the test cell can be seen in the background.  This facility no longer exists, but it was located northeast of building 79 (former home of the 20-inch Hypersonic Wind Tunnel).

[Archival Sources:  JPL Facts and Facilities, HC3-280; Performance of the 12-Inch Wind Tunnel, Memo 4-52; JPL maps; organization charts; telephone books; and Section 326 photo albums and indexes.]

TAGS: INDUCTION WIND TUNNEL, AERODYNAMIC FACILITY

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Viking 1 Landing Photos

Before personal computers, web sites, email, smart phones, and social media were commonplace, JPL posted mission photos on a bulletin board in the mall, with a caption by each photo.  This was the only way for most employees to see the images that were released to the public.

In July 1976, JPL celebrated the arrival of the Viking 1 lander on Mars.  Many images were received from the Viking orbiter and lander during that summer and some were assembled (by hand) into panoramas and mosaics.  Photos were displayed by closed-circuit television during the landing event to groups of visitors in a few locations on Lab, and were filmed or broadcast by visiting news crews.  Hard copy photos were distributed to the news media.  A small set of images from each JPL mission was typically selected for distribution to all JPLers, along with a letter of congratulations and thanks for their contributions. Decades later, many of these photographs and lithographs have found their way to the JPL Archives.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance.  [Archival and other sources:  JPL photo albums and indexes; JPL Annual Reports, and The Viking Mission to Mars.]

TAGS: VIKING, 1, LANDING

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Crushable Materials Tests for Surveyor

Even before Hughes Aircraft Company was selected as the contractor that would design and build the Surveyor landers, JPL began conducting tests of materials that would help to cushion the impact of a moon landing.  It was to be a soft landing, in contrast to the Ranger crash landings, but there would still be a drop of about 13 feet, where the Surveyor vernier engines would cut off and the lander would free fall to the surface of the moon.

The lander had a tripod structure, with hydraulic shock absorbers in the landing legs.  JPL also planned to use three blocks on the underside of the lander, one near each leg, that would absorb some of the impact.  Various materials, sizes, and configurations were tested, including aluminum tubes and sheets, some formed into a hexagonal honeycomb pattern.  The JPL Photolab took dozens of photos for the Engineering Research Section (354) which are identified simply as “crushable materials” and they show several series of tests completed in 1960-1962.  The results were reported in JPL’s bimonthly Space Programs Summaries and other technical reports.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance.  [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports; various Space Programs Summaries; RS36-5, vol. 2;  Section 354 photo indexes, JPL telephone books and organization charts.]

TAGS: CRUSHABLE, MATERIALS, TESTS, SURVEYOR

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This image was created by Hughes artist Carlos Lopez. It was used in a Surveyor poster, which was a common practice in the days before computer aided drawing.

Surveyor mission planning began in 1960. The mission included seven spacecraft that would soft land on the Moon, using three vernier engines and a retrorocket. The spacecraft would collect data and images of the surface, in order to ensure a safe landing for Apollo astronauts a few years later. Hughes Aircraft Company was selected to design and build the landers and the project was managed by JPL, which also provided tracking and communications. Surveyor I was launched on May 31, 1966, landed on the Moon June 2, and sent back more than 11,000 photos of the lunar surface. The entire image set from Surveyors 1-7 has recently been digitized, and will soon be added to NASA’s Planetary Data System.

This image was created by Hughes artist Carlos Lopez. It was used in a Surveyor poster, which was a common practice in the days before computer aided drawing. This poster was recently received by the JPL Archives, as part of a collection of Surveyor documentation.

For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports, Ranger and Surveyor Fact Sheet, and the NASA Historical Data Book.]

TAGS: SURVEYOR, SOFT, LUNAR, LANDING, 1966, VERNIER, RETROROCKET

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Dr. George Lewicki and Dr. Dimiter Tchernev (sitting at the microscope of the laser instrument)

From 1967 through the early 1970s, a number of studies were conducted at JPL with the goal of reducing the size of computer memory and developing miniature storage media for spacecraft computers.

These early tests used Curie-point writing to communicate the bits (ones and zeroes) of computer data. In various tests, a hot wire stylus, an electron beam, or a ruby laser were used to heat tiny dots (around one micrometer in size) on thin ferromagnetic manganese bismuthide (MnBi) film. The material was heated to just above its Curie temperature (the point at which the material is demagnetized) then cooled within a magnetic field, controlling the direction of the magnetization for each dot. The recorded bits of information were observed with polarized light using the Faraday effect. The recorded information could be completely erased by saturating the film in an applied magnetic field, then the recording process could be repeated.

The newest Historical Photo of the Month http://beacon.jpl.nasa.gov/historical-photo-of-the-month shows Dr. George Lewicki and Dr. Dimiter Tchernev who worked on this task.  It received NASA funding of $175,000 per year (about $1.2 million in 2016 dollars). The studies were documented in a series of published papers, articles in JPL Space Programs Summaries, and a press release. It was reported that one square inch of magnetic film could hold as much data as computer memory that (in 1967) took up ten cubic feet of space.

For more detailed information about the history of JPL, contact the Library and Archives Reference Desk at (818) 354-4200 or archives@jpl.nasa.gov.  If you have questions about the Historical Photo of the Month, please contact archivist Julie Cooper at Julie.A.Cooper@jpl.nasa.gov.

TAGS: MAGNETIC, DATA, STORAGE, HISTORY, COMPUTER, MEMORY, ELECTRON, RUBY, LASER

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Future Mars Mission

In between 1982 and 1997, JPL had no active missions on the surface of Mars.  July 1986 was the 10th anniversary of the Viking mission, and an artist was hired to help show the possibilities of future Mars exploration. This artist’s rendering depicts a fleet of landers with astronauts aboard. The one on its side enabled cargo bay doors to open so a vehicle could be driven out onto the surface of the planet and other cargo unloaded.

This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL’s Library and Archives Group.

TAGS: JPL MISSION SURFACE FUTURE MARS EXPLORATION HISTORY

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Scientist holding a weather balloon and standing in front of large computer equipment.

In the mid-1970s, JPL evaluated several techniques for determining atmospheric water vapor effects on radiometric range. These experiments allowed the signals between spacecraft and the Deep Space Network antennas to be properly calibrated. One of the experiments was the Scanning Microwave Inversion Layer Experiment (SMILE). In May 1974, this test was conducted in El Monte, California, with a radiosonde suspended beneath a weather balloon. When the balloon reached 10,000 feet (about 3 km) it began measuring absolute pressure, ambient temperature, and relative humidity, then radioed the results to ground receivers.

This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL’s Library and Archives Group.

TAGS: HISTORY, ATMOSHPHERE, WATER, VAPOR, MICROWAVE, SMILE

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Scientist sitting in front of atomic clock device

This atomic clock was used at the Goldstone Time Standards Laboratory in 1970, to synchronize clocks at Deep Space Network stations around the world. This master clock was accurate to plus or minus two millionths of a second, when compared to clocks maintained by the National Bureau of Standards and the U.S. Naval Observatory. In the late 1960s, JPL had developed a moon bounce technique to transmit signals from one deep space antenna to another. Experiments included periodic measurement of timing signals that were reflected from the surface of the moon, to find out if the station clocks were within allowable limits for accuracy.

This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL’s Library and Archives Group.

TAGS: HISTORY, ATOMIC CLOCK

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James Van Allen with Pioneer IV

Professor James Van Allen of the University of Iowa designed the cosmic ray detector experiment on JPL’s Explorer satellite, launched in 1958. He was also the principal investigator for the radiation experiment that was part of the Pioneer III and IV payloads. In this photo, Dr. Van Allen is looking at the cone-shaped Pioneer probe, before it was gold plated and painted with stripes (to maintain a temperature of 10-50 degrees C during flight).

After the launch of Pioneer IV on March 3, 1959 the experiment successfully measured radiation found around the Earth. It was also designed to measure lunar radiation, but the flyby distance of 37,000 miles was not close enough for the optical trigger to work. The instrument used two Geiger-Mueller tubes to detect and measure radiation and a small battery-powered radio transmitter to send the data to Earth. The low-power signal was received by the 85-foot antenna at Goldstone, California -- part of what became known as the Deep Space Network in 1963. The probe also tested technology that would be needed for future lunar photographic missions. After passing by the moon, Pioneer IV went into a heliocentric orbit.

This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL’s Library and Archives Group.

TAGS: HISTORY, PIONEER 4,

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Morris Dam Test Facility at JPL

In 1943, JPL was under contract with the Army Air Corps to design, build and test an underwater solid rocket motor. Early tests were done in a large trough of water to see if a solid propellant would fire underwater ... and it did. Field tests were conducted in 1943 at the Morris Dam Test Facility in an artificial lake 25 miles from Pasadena, California. The facility was part of Caltech’s “other” rocket project, funded by the National Defense Research Committee of the Office of Scientific Research and Development – an agency set up to support and coordinate war-related research.

This photo shows a barge, which was anchored to trees on the shore of the lake, with an underwater structure that would hold the motor at a depth of one to six feet during testing. Two motion-picture cameras (one color, and one black and white) filmed the ten tests. The test motors were loaded with two different propellant formulas (GALCIT 53 and GALCIT 54).

JPL had a growing need for its own underwater test facility, so construction began on a hydrodynamic tank, or towing channel, in September 1943. It was located in the space currently occupied by the parking structure and part of Arroyo Road. An Army Air Forces contract for $121,000 – for development of a hydrobomb design – began in September 1944.

This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL’s Library and Archives Group.

TAGS: HISTORY, TECHNOLOGY, ROCKETS

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