In February 1964, the Plasma Flow Research Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was completed. It was located in Building 112 by the East Gate in what was once rocket motor test cell B. It included a 7-foot-by-14-foot stainless steel cylindrical vacuum chamber with port holes on the sides to view and photograph the tests. In this photo, Gary Russell, a group supervisor in the Propulsion Research Section, discusses the plasma facility with JPL Director William Pickering, Deputy Director Brian Sparks, Assistant Director for Research and Advanced Development Frank Goddard, and Propulsion Research Section Chief Don Bartz.
Lab-Oratory, the JPL employee newspaper, covered the opening of this new facility, describing how plasma can be generated by bodies entering an atmosphere at high speed and in the plasma lab by electrical discharge. The plasma facility at JPL could create thermally ionized gases at temperatures up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Findings from the plasma program were to be applied to power and propulsion devices, and Earth re-entry problems (thermal protection, communication blackout and electrical breakdown). This was a $1.6 million JPL task – part of the larger NASA plasma research and development program.