Trip To NASA’s Plum Brook Station Open House

June 2, 2008

by — Posted in Personal Writing

So yesterday 06/01/08  Xie ‘lanthia, Ghoulishcharm, and myself made it out to NASA’s Plumbrook Station facility.

Wikipedia has this information on Plumbrook:

The 6400-acre Plum Brook field station near Sandusky, Ohio is also part of Glenn. It specializes in very large-scale tests which would be hazardous within the confines of the main campus. The Spacecraft Propulsion Facility at Plum Brook Station (PBS) is the world’s only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions. The PBS Space Power Facility houses the world’s largest space environment simulation chamber. PBS also has cryogenic test facilities and a hypersonic wind tunnel.

We got a late start (my fault) and arrived right around 5 PM.   The parking was supposed to be on the right hand side of RT 250, but in the first go around we didn’t see it.  So we looped around and headed for the main gate following the available signs.  Like when we went to the Glenn Research Open House, they weren’t allowing people in the main gate, but we weren’t the only ones that were lost (there was a pickup truck in front of us that seemed to be on the same mission).  The security guard gave directions to the pickup, a police officer gave directions to us.   It seemed we had 8 minutes before the final tour left for the day (and this being the last day we were SOL if we didn’t make it).  We went back to RT 250 and continued down further then I turned around the first time, it was about a 1/2 mile further down the road.

The parking lot was an old field, we were in miata (yes I know three people in a miata (don’t ask)) and some of the ruts were quite deep, so I bottomed out the car a couple times.   Now you would think that a facility that they had sunk billions (yes billions with a B) would have at least had a gravel parking area.   We later found out we could have parked at the indoor water park down the road and taken a bus from there, however there was no indicators that this could have been accomplished.

We made it through security, in which they checked my camera bag and asked if we were US citizens, after that we made it onto the last bus of the day over to the information center.  On the way we were given a history lesson on the Plumbrook property, which was a TNT manufacturing plant way back when.  Here is Nasa’s history of Plumbrook:

NASA’s only nuclear test reactor was the Plum Brook Reactor Facility, which is affiliated with the NASA Glenn Research Center . The facility, located on land that is now Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, operated from 1962-1973; but the history of the land stretches back to the 19 th Century when War of 1812 veterans were given the property. The federal government seized 9000 acres of this farmland in 1941 to construct a sprawling Ordnance Works facility that operated throughout World War II.

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics purchased the land in 1956 to build a test reactor, to support atomic aircraft studies being conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission. Although that concept was shelved before construction of the reactor was completed, President Kennedy breathed new life into the facility by supporting a national nuclear rocket program in May 1961, a month before the Plum Brook reactor was started up (also known as “taken critical”) for the first time.

During its operations, the 60-megawatt Plum Brook Reactor conducted over 70 experiments, most of which studied the effects of radiation on various materials. After the materials were irradiated in the reactor, they were transferred to the Hot Laboratory where they could be remotely examined, using manipulator arms that reached into a series of seven test cells.

The nation’s nuclear rocket program was cancelled during the post-Apollo budget cuts. The reactor was closed down in 1973 and was placed into a “safe dry storage” mode, during which it was monitored by NASA until initial decommissioning work began in 1998.

Since it was so late in the day the only building we could get into was the Space Power Facility, Wikipedia as this information on the Space Power Facility:

The Space Power Facility (SPF) is a vacuum chamber built by NASA in 1969. It stands 122 feet high and 100 feet in diameter, enclosing a bullet-shaped space. It is the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber. It was originally commissioned for nuclear-electric power studies under vacuum conditions, but was later decommissioned. Recently, it was recommissioned for use in testing spacecraft propulsion systems. Recent uses include testing the airbag landing systems for the Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, under simulated Mars atmospheric conditions.

The SPF is located at Plum Brook Station, near Sandusky, Ohio. Plum Brook Station is part of the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

We got to walk through the building and through the vacuum chamber itself.  You can look at the photos in my Flickr set.

All in all it was an enjaoyable and worthwhile trip, though I don’t think I would bother a second time.


Click hear to read more about experiments and information at Plumbrook.

12 thoughts on “Trip To NASA’s Plum Brook Station Open House

  1. Will you be having an open house in 2009 ??
    A group of us heard Joe Roman speak today – and we might be interested in bringing folks to attend

  2. Actually, Plumbrook has only been open to the public a couple of times. It had been 10 years since the last time they had an open house there. They do alot of rocket testing there and there's alot of volatile fuels on site. It's buried in the middle of a 20 square mile area for a reason, and because of that, it's not typically open to the public very often. You really have to keep your eyes open for an open house at Plumbrook as they are few and far between. NASA Glenn, which Plumbrook is a part of is open all the time for visitors though, and is a neat place to visit as well.

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