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.
“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.
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.”