Golden Moment: UT Space Institute Hits Key Milestone

UTSI-50thA quiet peninsula on the shores of a rural lake in middle Tennessee might have seemed an unlikely spot to create one of the nation’s leading science facilities in 1964.

Thankfully for the university, planners were less concerned with an out-of-the-way location and more focused on out-of-this-world ideas, literally, and the UT Space Institute was born.

As the center plans its golden jubilee celebration, there are plenty of accomplishments that helped ensure its place in the history of flight.

“We are proud of the numerous important scientific and technological advances we’ve made, but our students have been our biggest testament,” said UTSI Executive Director Robert Moore. “Primarily in aerospace and defense fields, but really in a number of ways, the success of our grads tells our story best.”

Arnold Air Force Base, just outside Tullahoma, was a bustling spot in the early 1960s.

Named for the military aviation pioneer known as the father of the Air Force, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the facility was built on the grounds of a disused air base from World War II.

The Arnold Engineering Development Center would become one of the key military facilities for the United States during the height of the Cold War, testing everything from engines to flight dynamics.

Tennessee’s first taste of the space race took place at the facility, where NASA used the wind tunnel to test its Mercury capsules.

It soon became clear that the nation needed an educational training center, and UT, thanks to contacts and arrangements with Arnold Air Force Base dating back to the mid-1950s, was seen as a logical choice.

Bernhard Goethert, who had encouraged Tennessee and the Air Force to push for the institute, became its first dean.

“Let us not make the mistake of believing that all that is necessary is to erect a minimum square building at the shore of the AEDC lake and to nail a shingle ‘Space Institute’ over the doorstep,” Goethert said at a 1963 ceremony. “It must inspire scientists and express a vision of an institute equaling or exceeding any other space center on this continent or abroad.”

Goethert had worked on projects as diverse as the world’s first jet and the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the moon. With him at the helm, the institute soon grew to be a leader in flight and astronaut education.

In the fifty years since opening, the institute has had more than 2,000 graduates, including 250 doctoral students and nine astronauts. In fact, UTSI graduate Barry Wilmore will serve as the next International Space Station commander.

Outside the cockpit, several graduates have gone on to play key roles in the public and private sectors at places like Lockheed Martin and NASA.

“From the start, we’ve been focused on the mission of advancing the level of expertise and technology available through our institute,” said Moore. “We’ve managed to remain a leader in everything from aerospace to mechanical engineering, and that has helped our students become leaders in those fields as well.”

To celebrate its half-century, UTSI is hosting a two-day event featuring demonstrations, music, comedy, and games.

More information on the event can be found at utsi.edu.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)