National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Goddard Space Flight Center

Brian Roberts, who works as an engineer at Goddard, led a group including the Glenn, Marshall, and Goddard Academies, through three buildings at Goddard. The three buildings were connected, so it was hard to even distinguish between them. On the tour, the group saw and learned about several things. The first thing we saw were two large thermal vacuums, which are used to test small components or systems such as circuit boards or mechanical switches before they are sent to the clean rooms. Nearby, we saw a third thermal vacuum. This one was much larger than the first two. Entire systems or satellites are tested in this chamber.

Sitting near the large thermal vacuum, were two pieces of equipment used in the last Hubble mission. The larger of the two pieces was used as part of the Hubble Imax experience, which shot a few minutes of high definition coverage of the Hubble telescope to be used for the Imax presentation of it. 

The next part of the tour led us to a huge centrifuge used to test satellites and other systems before they are launched into space. The centrifuge has a large tank on one end, which got cracked during an early test. Essentially, the tank became the world’s most expensive counter weight. Now, when the centrifuge is used, systems are attached to the other end of the beam and can be tested up to 30G!

Next, Roberts showed us the smaller of the two clean rooms on site, which housed a mock-up of part of the Hubble in the corner. This room had previously been used for parts of the Hubble mission, for preparing parts before launch. In the room, part of Robert’s team was working on developing robots to do repair missions for the Hubble, to keep the cost of missions down, while extending the life of the Hubble. Also in the room were tools assembled on a table. These were the tools actually used by the astronauts to help fix the Hubble in previous missions. All of these tools were developed at Goddard. 

Further into the tour, we saw personnel working on a mock-up of another satellite. They were working on fitting wire harnesses to the structure of the satellite. Just past this large room, was the shipping area, where the large and complex structures are prepared for shipping. Roberts explained some of the problems associated with shipping such large but delicate pieces to either the Cape or to Houston. 

To conclude the tour, we went upstairs and looked through a viewing window at the world’s largest known clean room. Inside, people donning the full head-to-toe clean suit were working on parts of the James Webb Space Telescope.