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Revolutionary Atmosphere: The Story of the Altitude Wind Tunnel and the Space Power Chambers, SP-2010-4319

Arrighi, Robert S.

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ISBN 10: 0160856418 / ISBN 13: 9780160856419
Published by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA History Division, Washington, DC, 2010
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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About this Item

Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. xviii, 392, [4] pages. Monographs in Aerospace History. Illustrations. Bibliographic Essay. Interview List. List of Images. Index. Robert S. Arrighi is an archivist and historian at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He has worked on numerous textual and audiovisual collections, many of which have been central for his histories of several historic test facilities at the Center. He is the coauthor of NASA's Nuclear Frontier (2004) and author of Revolutionary Atmosphere: History of the Altitude Wind Tunnel and Space Chambers (2010), Pursuit of Power: NASA Glenn's Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and2 (2012), and other works. He has also curated complementary websites and interactives. His Altitude Wind Tunnel Interactive CD-ROM won SHFG's Powell Award in 2009. When constructed in the early 1940s, the Altitude Wind Tunnel (AWT) was the nation s only wind tunnel capable of studying full-scale engines under realistic flight conditions. It played a significant role in the development of the first U.S. jet engines as well as technologies such as the afterburner and variable-area nozzle. In the late 1950s, the tunnel's interior components were removed so that hardware for Project Mercury could be tested in altitude conditions. In 1961, a portion of the tunnel was converted into one of the country s first large vacuum tanks and renamed the Space Power Chambers (SPC). SPC was used extensively throughout the 1960s for the Centaur rocket program. Bookseller Inventory # 71618

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Revolutionary Atmosphere: The Story of the ...

Publisher: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA History Division, Washington, DC

Publication Date: 2010

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: very good

Edition: Presumed first edition/first printing.

About this title



A massive, but little-known, facility in Cleveland, Ohio, played a vital role in the U.S. development of jets, in the training of NASA’s first astronauts, and in making NASA’s first missions beyond Earth orbit possible.  Revolutionary Atmosphere tells the story of this obscure giant. Starting life in 1944 as the Altitude Wind Tunnel, it was the first wind tunnel that could study aircraft engines under realistic flight conditions; and it was enormous—in its original configuration, it could even accommodate full-size aircraft. The tunnel could not only simulate the high speeds of jet aircraft, like other wind tunnels, but could simulate the pressures and temperatures of higher elevation flight. Creating the frigid temperatures required the world’s largest refrigeration system, which the Carrier Corporation designed with innovative accordion-like cooling coils. At the military’s request, nearly every type of aircraft engine was tested in the Altitude Wind Tunnel during the 1940s and 1950s. In the late 1950s, when the flight of Sputnik I spurred the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and change its primary mission to aerospace, the facility changed too.

The tunnel was divided into two sealed vacuum chambers, with one chamber completely rewelded to withstand the higher pressures of simulating the vacuum of space. A liquid-nitrogen cold wall was added to simulate the extreme cold of space, and special lamps were added to simulate the intense heat and light of solar radiation outside of Earth’s atmosphere. It was renamed the Space Power Chambers and began its second life as two gigantic environmental chambers, or space tanks.After the mid-1970s the facility was no longer used to simulate the environments of space or the upper atmosphere. Parts of it were used for storage, a shop area was used to test electric automobiles, and the Exhauster Building (which had created the vacuum environment for the facility) had a lengthy second career as a visitor center. In 2005 NASA decided to tear the facility down rather than continue the expense of maintaining it. The Altitude Wind Tunnel/Space Power Chambers’ 65-year history came to an end in 2009 as its last pieces were dismantled and hauled away.

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About the Author:

Bob Arrighi, archivist for Wyle Information Systems, supports the History Program at the NASA Glenn Research Center. He received his B.A. in history from Cleveland State University and M.L.I.S. in library and information science from Kent State University. While archiving documents, photographs, and artifacts for NASA’s Plum Brook Reactor Facility, Arrighi cowrote NASA’s Nuclear Frontier ( and the script for an Emmy-nominated documentary video, Of Ashes and Atoms. Recently he has been documenting several Glenn facilities before their demolition: the Altitude Wind Tunnel, the Propulsion Systems Laboratory, and the B-1 and B-3 test stands. He has won several awards from NASA, and in 2009 the Society for History in Federal Government recognized his work on an interactive history for the Altitude Wind Tunnel (  

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