Photos: Inside NASA Ames
At the NASA Ames Research Center outside Sunnyvale, Calif., Christine Heincke sorts out the serpent's nest of water hoses making up the cooling system for the arc jet. Testing surface materials for spacecrafts, the jet sends hot gas at supersonic speeds, reaching up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite supercomputing powers, physical testing is needed to know whether spacecrafts can deal with the air pressure when re-entering the earth atmosphere.
The NASA Ames supercomputer can perform 61 trillion operations per second, making it the fourth most powerful computer in the world. Besides spacecraft development it is used for hurricane forecasts and predict the merging of black holes.
There used to be 26 wind tunnels at the NASA Ames Research Center, now only two remain. Most of the tests have been replaced by computer simulations.
The NASA space shuttles have been around for 25 years, but will soon be grounded for good. Jim Strong is one of the engineers performing shuttle safety tests, moving on to developing the new Crew Exploration Vehicle aiming for the moon.
This shark nose is pointing into one of the NASA Ames wind tunnels. Spacecraft models are attached to it before a giant fan is switched on, simulating the air pressure that vehicles face when entering or leaving the earth atmosphere.