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House Votes to Rename NASA Center for Neil Armstrong

Situated within the historic Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center is illustrative of the close link between the careers of both Hugh Dryden and Neil Armstrong. Photo Credit: NASA

Situated within the historic Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center is illustrative of the close link between the careers of both Hugh Dryden and Neil Armstrong. Photo Credit: NASA

Following months of speculation and deliberation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California after the late Neil Armstrong, who died last August at age 82. The language of House Resolution 667 calls for the installation, which lies within Edwards Air Force Base, to be designated as “The Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.” At the same time, HR 667 proposes to continue the nation’s homage to former NASA Deputy Administrator and noted aeronautical engineer Hugh Dryden, by renaming the surrounding Western Aeronautical Test Range in his memory.

Although Neil Armstrong was not one of the X-15 pilots who officially entered space, he was described by his contemporary Milton O. Thompson as one of the rocket-propelled aircraft's most accomplished fliers. Photo Credit: NACA/NASA

Although Neil Armstrong was not one of the X-15 pilots who officially entered space, he was described by his contemporary Milton O. Thompson as one of the rocket-propelled aircraft’s most accomplished fliers. Photo Credit: NACA/NASA

“Not many people know the relationship between these two men,” said Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. “Dryden was the visionary behind NASA’s X-15 rocket-plane and the Apollo program. Neil Armstrong was the one who flew the spacecraft Dryden envisioned.” In testimony on the Senate floor Monday, Smith noted that it was Dryden who recommended to President John F. Kennedy that landing a man on the Moon within the decade of the 1960s was achievable … and that it was Armstrong who realized that dream. Sadly, Dryden never saw the dream turn into a reality.This latest effort to pay proper tribute to Armstrong began last November, under the sponsorship of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, whose California district encompasses NASA-Dryden. It received the backing of numerous powerful lawmakers, including Reps. Ken Calvert, Buck McKeon, Dana Rohrabacher, and Adam Schiff of California, together with Ralph Hall and Lamar Smith of Texas and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi. On 31 December 2012, the House of Representatives voted 404-0 in favor of the renaming, and the next steps toward its realization are Senate approval and the signature of President Obama himself. Yet this is not the first attempt to rename NASA-Dryden for Armstrong. Back in July 2007, Calvert, McKeon, and McCarthy backed an early bid, whilst the famous astronaut was still alive.

Hugh Dryden. Posted on AmericaSpace.

Hugh Dryden (1898-1965) was a brilliant aeronautical engineer—pictured here during his tenure as NASA Deputy Administrator with an early model of the Lunar Excursion Module. Photo Credit: NASA

Armstrong served as a test pilot at the center—then known as the High-Speed Flight Station—from 1955 until 1962, departing shortly before his selection into NASA’s astronaut corps. Whilst there, he accrued more than 2,400 flying hours, most notably aboard the X-15. On one occasion, flying with test pilot Stan Butchart in a B-29 Stratofortress, Armstrong was directed to airdrop a Skyrocket supersonic research vehicle. Upon reaching altitude one of the B-29’s four engines shut down and the propeller began “windmilling” in the airstream; after airdropping the Skyrocket, the propeller disintegrated and its debris disabled two more engines. Remarkably, Butchart and Armstrong nursed the crippled aircraft to a safe landing … under the power of only one engine. Shortly before his selection by NASA into its astronaut corps, Armstrong flew the X-15 to a peak velocity of Mach 5.74.

It was Dr. Hugh Dryden, though, who was posthumously honored in March 1976 by having the center named for him. Born in 1898, this remarkable man—who earned a master’s degree in physics when he was just 18 years old and a Ph.D. at age 20—undertook pioneering aerodynamic research and contributed to aircraft wing design. In 1939, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the forerunner of NASA) and later supervised the development of the X-15. By the time NACA was replaced by NASA in October 1958, Dryden had risen to the post of Director and became Deputy Administrator of the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He died in office in 1965.

“President Kennedy grabbed Hugh Dryden’s idea and addressed a joint session of Congress the very next month,” explained Smith, making reference to the top-level discussions in Washington, D.C., in April-May 1961, about how to tackle the Soviets in space, following the shock of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight into orbit and the dismal U.S. failure to topple Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. “With this bill, we reaffirm America is filled with ‘dreamers’ like Hugh Dryden and ‘doers’ like Neil Armstrong, who—working together—can shoot for the Moon.”

10 comments to House Votes to Rename NASA Center for Neil Armstrong

  • This is a most welcomed honor. What can our elected officials do to honor Armstrong in Wasahington, D.C.? A monument to Armstrong on the mall would be a tribute to all astronauts who dared to venture in space as well as to commemorate mankind’s first venture to another world.

  • Karol

    Excellent idea Tom!! Such a monument sounds exactly what Kickstarter is for. Imagine such a tribute in front of the Air and Space Museum. It almost sounds disrespectful and unappreciative for us not to have such a monument.

  • In reading the various books on our astronauts(especially Armstrong’s biography, “First Man”) one gets an overwhelming sense of the magnitude of being on another world. Of all of history’s explorers, Armstrong and the 11 other moonwalkers participated in Mankind’s greatest adventures. What their eyes have seen! They should be recognized in a venue such as the Air and Space Museum with some sort of monument. I agree – it is disrespectful and unappreciative NOT to do so

  • Mary Kanian

    Thank you for another wonderful article of significant historical proportions to our time…in fact, FOR ALL TIME!! It was absolutely APPALLING the lack of attention and RESPECT that was given to the passing of ONE OF THE BRAVEST PIONEERING SOULS OF OUR TIME…!!! The Los Angeles Times mentioned his passing in a little box on the lower right hand of the first page….mighty short shrift for THE FIRST HUMAN BEING TO LAND ON THE MOON!!!!

  • Noel Falconer

    Uh-uh. We needed his name for the first moonbase.

  • Karol

    I’m just an average American, in other words, I have no wealth, no power, and no influence. Placing a monument on federal property in front of the Air and Space Museum would certainly require the enthusiastic support of at least one member of Congress, but when I attempt to speak with a staff member of one of my elected representatives about space issues, all I get is a condescending, impatient “we really don’t care, how soon will you be off the phone, your vote doesn’t matter because this seat is a lock” response. I’m absolutely certain that there are many, many more intelligent, dedicated individuals like Tom and Mary who would eagerly, whole-heartedly support in any way possible the creation of such a monument, but who lack the means to do so. When Senators and Representatives ignore us, what’s next? Seek out a well-known space-related person such as a Dr.Neil deGrasse Tyson to carry our banner? Suggest the idea to Dr. Mike Griffin at the AIAA? This is a GREAT idea that our respect for, and appreciation of, our astronaut heroes demands not be left to go quietly into that good-night.

  • Karol

    Hey! I’ve been thinking about this problem and I’d like to throw out an idea to bounce around. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R. Tx) was always a very dedicated, vocal, hard-working supporter of NASA and OUR Orion/SLS. If all Senators were like her, we would have a permanent lunar base and human exploration missions to Mars by now. Now that she is retired, she may be looking for something to which she can put her intellect and experience to good use. Chairperson of a foundation to create a monument to our astronaut heroes in D.C. might provide her the opportunity for a rewarding and challenging way to use her talents. Whadya’ think?

  • Karol: Kay Bailey Hutchinson sounds like an excellent choice. There are monuments to many historical figures and to not recognize Armstrong and our astronaut heroes is indeed a travesty. When Congress decides to undertake one of their “pet projects,” they can find the time and money (ours, of course). Space exploration culminating in the moon landings was the most signficant exploration event in human history. Recognition of Armstrong is not a pet project, but rather a source of pride and accomplishment for the American people. C’mon Congress!!!!! Do what’s right!!!

  • [...] Following months of speculation and deliberation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California after the late Neil Armstrong, who died last August at age 82. The language of House Resolution 667 calls for the installation, which lies within Edwards Air Force Base, to be designated as “The Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.” At the same time, HR 667 proposes to continue the nation’s homage to former NASA Deputy Administrator and noted aeronautical engineer Hugh Dryden, by renaming the surrounding Western Aeronautical Test Range in his memory. Continue reading House Votes to Rename NASA Center for Neil Armstrong [...]

  • Now let’s get to that monument in Washington, D.C. What say you, Congress?