NASA's First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008

  • Published
NASA's First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008 by Robert G. Ferguson. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2013, 293 pp.

"The Other NASA" best summarizes Robert Ferguson's most recent addition to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Historic Program Office's history series. In NASA's First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008, Ferguson brings to light the often forgotten and seldom known history of NASA research and the resulting impact it had on the development of airpower, military strategy, space capability, technology, and US economic growth. Ferguson reveals NASA's rich history of research, spanning multiple laboratories and test sites, which led to technological advances in aeronautics such as military rocketry programs, the X-15 space plane, spacecraft capable of landing after Earth reentry, and the supersonic transport. Finally, he explores the most turbulent of times when US political and economic factors, unnecessary competition, and lack of market discipline threatened the future of aeronautics research toward the turn of the millennium in the 1990s.

Ferguson explains in detail how, unlike space research, aeronautics research initiatives delivered to the US taxpayer practical and largely accepted solutions to economic, military, and commercial challenges. One of the most utilized--and least known of commercial advances--is the winglets on the tips of US commercial airliners and newer military cargo jets, a component designed to increase efficiency and reduce drag at subsonic speeds. Another dually beneficial advance propelled by aeronautics research is the subsonic airfoil--a design perfected by NASA researchers for highly efficient, low-drag, high-subsonic wings. The aforementioned designs are still employed by air and space engineers during development of military airlift and commercial passenger aircraft. Ferguson’s work captures and preserves NASA's aeronautics research accomplishments for future aviation and space scholars, historians, and researchers.

In the final chapters, Ferguson provides a comprehensive narrative covering the most volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous time in the history of NASA's aeronautics research. At the turn of the century, the federal government experienced tremendous budget cuts. Even NASA, with a preponderance of federal funding during the Clinton administration, was struggling to support its air and space research initiatives. Ferguson highlights how poorly monitored performance and unregulated program growth, as well as fraud, waste, and abuse, created distrust in federally funded research and development. Given these events and the preparation for a Mars mission driven by the Bush administration, NASA leaders redirected focus and scarce funds away from aeronautics research and toward space exploration.

At only 234 pages of text, NASA's First A is an easy-to-read, well-written historical compilation of NASA's aeronautics research milestones--as well as struggles--suited best for space buffs, scholars, historians, and researchers in the space industry. The average Air Force, NASA, or commercial industry space practitioner will discover little of practical value in the text, and without an interest in history or research, such individuals might find it difficult to navigate the detailed presentation of NASA's historical developments.

Maj Jason M. Newcomer, DBA, USAF
Air Force Flight Standards Agency
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

"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."