Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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NASA center may be named for Armstrong

Facility’s leaders consider costof rechristening Dryden site


Neil Armstrong, shown in July 20, 1969, the first man on the moon, has never had a NASA facility named after him, but some in Congress want to change that.

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LOS ANGELES — Neil Armstrong’s name is attached to a lunar crater, an asteroid, more than a dozen schools, and a museum, but not a single NASA facility is christened in honor of the man whose “giant leap” made him the first to walk on the moon.

All that soon could change on the fringes of the Mojave Desert, where leaders at the space agency’s top flight research center are mulling the consequences of a proposed name change at the place where Mr. Armstrong, a Wapakoneta, Ohio, native, was a test pilot.

The push by some in Congress to strike the name of former NASA executive Hugh Dryden from the facility has brought with it some questions: Is it justified to substitute one accomplished figure for another? At a time of squeezed budgets, is it worth the cost? And, besides: How long before the next space hotshot upends the world’s first moonwalker?

Managers at the Dryden Flight Research Center have no say in what the facility is called — final approval rests with the U.S. House and Senate — and so they have left the soul-searching to others.

“I’m happy with the name Dryden Flight Research Center, but I’ll be equally happy with Armstrong,” center Director David McBride said. “Both men were leaders in the field.”

Though not a done deal, brainstorming is under way. Welcome signs bearing the Dryden logo would have to be updated. Research aircraft would need their sides repainted. Letterhead and pamphlets would have to be recycled.

Then there’s the obligatory dedication ceremony.

Dryden officials have not calculated a total makeover cost, but they don’t foresee extra funds, meaning they would have to work within their $65 million operating budget to pay for the changes.

It wouldn’t be the first rebranding of a NASA facility.

In 1999, the Lewis Research Center in Ohio — named for George Lewis, the first executive officer of NASA’s predecessor agency — was changed to the John H. Glenn Research Center, after the first American to orbit Earth and former senator.

A daylong celebration was held, complete with an F-16 flyover and a parade filled with floats, marching bands, and an appearance by Mr. Glenn, a former Ohio senator.

Any festivities marking a Dryden-to-Armstrong swap would likely be more muted to save money.

A name switch often occurs to raise a center’s profile and is not unlike what happens at universities, which shuffle the nameplate on buildings and stadiums as memories fade and institutions try to cash in on a bigger celebrity or generous donor.

The Dryden moniker has existed since 1976.

Before that, the center, on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, was not named for a specific person. It was here where the sound barrier was broken and where the now-retired space shuttle fleet once landed. Experimental jets routinely buzz the skies.

Between 1955 and 1962, Mr. Armstrong was a test pilot at the facility — then called the High-Speed Flight Station. He logged 2,400 hours of flight there, including on the X-15 rocket plane that opened the way for manned spaceflight.

Less of a household name, Mr. Dryden was a child prodigy who enrolled in college at age 14. An aerospace engineer, he served as director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, and later as the space agency’s first deputy administrator.

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