We remember the construction of the Armstrong time capsule

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In 1995, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California celebrated its 50th anniversary.

And so a time capsule was needed.

Machinists Andy Blua and Tom McMullen, along with welders Ed Swan and Don Whitfield, were tasked with following the engineering drawings and building the container that would safely hold the artifacts for a quarter of a century.

Once completed, the time capsule was loaded with material provided by the centre’s organizations and sealed to mark the centre’s 50th anniversary in 1996.

Fast forward to October 13, 2021, the center is celebrating its 75th anniversary and the objects in the capsule have been unloaded. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, NASA Armstrong Center Director David McBride, and Deputy Director Pat Stoliker reviewed the stored treasurers for a new generation of staff at the center.

Blua and Whitfield, who still work at the center, were there as the artifacts they were helping to safely store were unpacked.

“I don’t often realize what I’m working on, or its significance,” Blua said.

In fact, men had forgotten everything about the time capsule until recently, when it was announced that it would be open. Whitfield added that they also had no idea what was in it.

“I was caught off guard,” Blua said. “I can’t believe it’s been 25 years.”

The team that built the time capsule for NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. Includes from left Andy Blua, David Oates, Greg Poteat, Tom McMullen, Aric Warner, Joe Pengilley and John Breiding. (Photo NASA)

Budgets, blueprints, and technical documents were in the capsule, which also included an aerial photo of the center, an 8-inch data storage floppy disk that was no longer in use in the late 1970s, a punch card seen last seen in the mid-1980s, an image of the research aircraft fleet, a VHS video, photos of research aircraft, and a photo of the personnel behind Hangar 4802.

Additionally, other encapsulated items included photos from the Hispanic Heritage Program, the Flights of Discovery book, and the centre’s strategic plan. Perhaps the most valuable part of the collection was around 30 entries that included text and drawings from local schoolchildren, called Aeronautics 2020, on what they thought the future would look like.

While the time capsule has secured items for 25 years and will do so again to open the center’s 100th anniversary, Blua and Whitfield agreed that they would like to make some improvements.

The original designer of the time capsule ignored the container diameter measurement. It did not fit well in the cockpit of the X-1E, where it was stored just outside the centre’s main administrative building. In fact, it was hard to squeeze in and it was just as hard to get it out.

The men come up with a minor overhaul to cut the cover, shorten the cylinder, refurbish it, and anodize it (a process of adding a protective layer) like the original to keep it in pristine condition. When complete, Blua offers to add a new plaque to recognize the additional people who contribute to the longevity of the time capsule. Another idea Whitfield suggested is to check that it fits well before recharging it with new items for a future generation.

They also want the Fabrication Branch, which didn’t exist like 25 years ago, to add something to the capsule. While it is not known what items might be selected for the time capsule, one thing is certain: it will stand the test of time.


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