Initial Technical Programs in 1960–1964


The technical programs initiated by each laboratory organization between 1960 and 1964 were comprehensive, visionary, and audacious. Together, they addressed fundamental technical problems involved in perfecting ballistic missiles as well as the challenges likely to be encountered by newly emerging space systems.

Aerodynamics and Propulsion Laboratory

(Joseph Logan, principal director)

  • Supersonic and hypersonic reentry aerodynamics
  • Hypersonics relevant to lifting bodies
  • Optical and electromagnetic reentry signatures
  • High-energy oxidizers and fuels
  • Heat transfer and ablation studies
  • Gaseous nuclear core rocket concepts

Plasma Research Laboratory

(Vernal Josephson, principal director; Rudy Meyer, assoc. principal director)

  • Plasma physics diagnostics
  • Reentry plasma phenomena and antenna interactions
  • Magnetohydrodynamics in pinch devices
  • Plasma propulsion
  • Plasma confinement for thermonuclear fusion

Space Physics Laboratory

(Robert Becker, principal director)

  • Physics of trapped space radiation
  • Studies of solar physics and solar cosmic rays
  • Dynamics and photochemistry of the upper atmosphere
  • Interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere
  • Terrestrial infrared and ultraviolet backgrounds

 Electronics Research Laboratory

(Max Weiss, principal director)

  • Quantum electronics
  • Superconductivity and superconducting devices
  • Infrared detector technologies
  • Solid-state and gas laser technologies
  • Radio astronomy and radar technology at millimeter wavelengths

Materials Sciences Laboratory

(John Hove, principal director)

  • Effects of space environments on surfaces and materials
  • Effects of nuclear weapons on materials in space
  • Metallurgy and ceramics research as applied to reentry
  • High-temperature materials research/microstructure properties
  • Oxidation and vaporization of materials at high temperatures

From the perspective of 2010, it is clear that the thread of ballistic missile and rocket technology connects much of this research, as do the challenges of understanding the effects of what was, in 1960, a whole new environment. Quantum physics, lasers, and electronic device research are also evident, as well as work on IR detector technology and IR phenomenology. Note that in 1960–1964, there was still an optimistic outlook for controlled thermonuclear fusion, and the Plasma Research Laboratory pursued some fundamental research in this area. But, as should be the case with well-constructed research programs, the activities outlined above were but the beginnings—the seeds for new initiatives as technology and science and the needs of national security space programs evolved.


Technical Programs in 2010

The technical programs of the Aerospace Physical Science Laboratories have continued to evolve. Under the leadership of Sherrie Zacharius, there are now three organizations within this division:

Electronics and Photonics Laboratory

(Bernardo Jaduszliwer, principal director)

  • Space radiation effects on electronic components
  • Microelectronics reliability/microanalysis
  • Advanced electronic device technology
  • Terahertz and millimeter-wave technology
  • Atomic clocks and timekeeping
  • Quantum information science and technology
  • Solid-state laser development and active remote sensing
  • Ultrashort-pulse laser applications
  • Photonics for information transmission
  • Orbital sensor calibration
  • Spacecraft solar cells, batteries, and power systems

Space Materials Laboratory

(Gary Hawkins, principal director)

  •  Thin films and optical materials
  • Structural materials research and characterization
  • Space environmental effects on materials
  • Spacecraft solar panel structures
  • Electric and chemical propulsion
  • Polymer applications in space and launch systems
  • Plasma physics applied to space components
  • Mechanics of flight components
  • Materials characterization
  • Environmental science
  • Spaceflight contamination
  • Lubrication, tribology, and surface science

Space Science Applications Laboratory

(James Clemmons, principal director; Lynn Friesen, assoc. principal director)

  • Rocket plume phenomenology and modeling
  • Satellite technical intelligence analysis
  • Infrared spectroscopy of space objects
  • Test and calibration of infrared sensors
  • Space environment specification
  • Space radiation effects
  • Studies of atmospheric and ionospheric effects
  • Small satellite sensor development

There are many threads of continuity, but also enormous changes in the technical programs as they have evolved over the years. The continuity stems from the mission of Aerospace, which remains consistent since its founding. What has changed is the enormous advances in technology, particularly in computing and information storage and processing, which provide substantially more capabilities to the scientists and engineers of the laboratories.

The contributions of the Physical Sciences Laboratories to the mission of Aerospace have been many and varied. Since the inception of the corporate awards program in 1979, 11 staff members have received the Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Award*mdash;the corporation’s highest honor—and 38 have been recognized with the Aerospace President’s Achievement Award.

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