Pursuit of Power: NASA's Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2

  • Published
Pursuit of Power: NASA's Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 by Robert S. Arrighi. NASA History Program Office, 2012, 185 pp. 

Research and development (R&D) is risky business. The prospect of creating a laboratory to test technology that does not yet exist and for which we do not know the performance is just one aspect of this risk. However, most people do not realize that money spent on R&D in the early stages of acquisition is the least costly and most valuable investment in the life cycle of any major weapons system. This lesson is just one of many to be reaped from Robert Arrighi's Pursuit of Power, the latest addition to NASA's series of historical publications that documents the rise and fall of its namesake--Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2. Written with great attention to detail and the product of exhaustive research, the book, which includes extensive bibliographic and photographic reference material, will certainly become the authoritative source on the subject.

In 1950 "there was pressure to trim the federal deficit and reduce spending on research and development" (p. 13). Additionally, the Korean War diverted much of the defense spending. In this austere environment, the labs were built, and their history begins. Clearly, the labs, the programs they supported, and the fiscal environment in which they survived have much in common. That air and space leaders faced these challenges in the 1950s should immediately highlight the relevance of this story.

The astute reader will find anecdotal evidence of many important issues that existed then, just as they do now, and strategies for coping with the problems we now face. Examples include R&D and its effect on military readiness, high-demand/low-density test assets and resources, integrated test strategies, and the importance of industry cooperation. R&D and acquisition make up one command in the US Air Force, but the price tag for acquiring a new weapons system almost always makes the headlines. In reality, costs for operation and maintenance far outweigh the initial investment. The Pursuit of Power presents a case for making these investments and outlines a strategy for doing it successfully. The Propulsion Systems Lab at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, served the purpose for which it was created and adapted to changing times, technology, and requirements with great flexibility and efficiency. Many notable Air Force aircraft and even some domestic and foreign civil platforms were powered by engines tested there. Government, industry, and military leaders facing the challenges of our future and of our Air Force would do well to study the leaders presented herein, the problems they faced, and the decisions they made.

Maj Mark Jones Jr., USAFR
Kernersville, North Carolina

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."