By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, long a powerhouse of aerospace research and testing in eastern Kern County, has been renamed in honor of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
The facility, built along the northwest edge of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, is considered the federal agency's center of excellence for atmospheric flight research, NASA said in a news release Friday.
The late Hugh L. Dryden, the center's namesake since 1976, will continue to be memorialized in the renaming of the center's 12,000-square-mile Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Dryden Aeronautical Test Range.
Dryden, an aeronautical scientist who was considered an engineering genius, was involved in organizing flight research long before NASA was formed in 1958. He served as deputy administrator of NASA until his death in 1965.
Armstrong has had significant ties to the center, both before and after his days as a NASA astronaut. He served as a research test pilot at the center from 1955 to 1962, amassing more than 2,400 flight hours in 48 different types of aircraft, including seven flights in the rocket-powered X-15, NASA said in the release.
Armstrong was part of a team that conceptualized the lunar landing research vehicle, a flight test craft that evolved into the lunar landing training vehicle. He and the other commanders of Apollo lunar landing missions trained in that vehicle for their descents from lunar orbit down to the surface of the moon.
Following the triumph of the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969, Armstrong left the astronaut corps and became NASA's deputy associate administrator for aeronautics, overseeing aeronautical research programs being conducted at the center, particularly its pioneering work on developing digital electronic flight control systems. He died in 2012.
The redesignation of the center was directed in legislation authored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. The resolution was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2013, with the Senate concurring in early January, followed by President Obama's signing it into law Jan. 16.
The renaming of a center is not without precedent. In 1999, the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland was renamed in honor of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule in 1962.
"I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor these two leaders who broadened our understanding of aeronautics and space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in the release. "Both Dryden and Armstrong are pioneers whose contributions to NASA and our nation still resonate today."