NASA's Dryden Center Might be Renamed for Neil Armstrong

Armstrong had an extensive background as a test pilot. He flew on a wide range of aircraft including the experimental X-20 Dyna-Soar and X-15 (seen here) space planes. Photo Credit: NASA

Armstrong in the cockpit of an X-15 at Edwards Air Force Base, an aircraft he flew at the site that might soon bear his name. Photo Credit: NASA

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would honor Neil Armstrong; NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center would be renamed for the first man to walk on the Moon. But it’s not a done deal just yet. The bill still has to go through the Senate before being signed into law by President Obama.

The bill was first offered by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, and cosponsored by Reps. Ken Calvert, Buck McKeon, Dana Rohrabacher, and Adam Schiff of California, Ralph Hall and Lamar Smith of Texas, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.

An aerial view. 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

An aerial view of the Dryden Flight Research Center in 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

For McKeon, his support of the bill is rooted, at least in part, in the emotions ascribed to the Apollo Moon landings. “Dedicating this stellar institution to Neil Armstrong is a small token of our public gratitude and will hopefully work to ensure that his legacy is honored for generations to come,” he said in a statement. “I will never forget watching Neil Armstrong take those first steps on the moon.” For McKeon, Armstrong’s steps on the Moon proved that anything is possible. It’s a sentiment worth commemorating.

The center up for renaming, the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, is NASA’s primary center for atmospheric flight research and operations. It’s where the agency researches advanced designs and technologies for civilian and military aircraft. It was also the primary alternate landing site for the space shuttle. Currently, Dryden is playing a large role in developing the launch abort systems for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. But that’s not what makes it an appropriate center to bear Armstrong’s name.

From 1955 until he joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1962, Armstrong was a test pilot at what was then called the High-Speed Flight Station; the center became a part of NASA after the agency was founded in 1958. As a test pilot, he racked up 2,400 hours of flying time, including seven flights in the X-15. It was here, too, that he worked out the launch abort procedure for the Dyna-Soar and worked with the team that designed what became the Apollo Lunar Landing Research Vehicle.

Hugh Dryden. Photo Credit: NASA

Hugh Dryden. Photo Credit: NASA

The High-Speed Flight Station was named for Hugh L. Dryden on March 26, 1976, the former director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. When the NACA was dissolved and NASA formed in 1958, Dryden became the space agency’s first deputy administrator. He held his post with NASA until his death in 1965. Not only was Dryden a celebrated aeronautical engineer, he was instrumental in developing the nation’s high-speed research program that includes the X-15. He also helped moderate agreements with the Soviet Union that led to a cooperative and peaceful use of space.

Dryden had an illustrious career and won’t be dishonored if the center that now bears his name is rechristened in honor of Armstrong. The bill proposes renaming the Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range.

Whatever comes of this bill, it’s fitting that two brilliant engineers who shaped the nation’s history in space would be honored at the desert site where they both made history.

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