National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA History Division


written c. 2003

by Kent C. Carter

Regional Administrator,


A frustrated NASA engineer supposedly once said that if all the paperwork the agency generated were piled up, the stack would reach the moon long before an Apollo spacecraft ever did. Researchers are often looking for one document from that stack and wonder how to even begin to find it. Many of the records created by NASA are now in the custody of NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, and those files contain a great deal of neat stuff about the right stuff.
Records of federal agencies that have enough research value to warrant their permanent preservation are generally transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives when they are 25-30 years old. To date, more than five thousand cubic feet of NASA records have made that transition and almost all of them are open to researchers. Records that NASA has yet to offer for legal transfer and all of its files that have only temporary value, are either stored by NASA in its various centers or are sent to NARA but remain in NASA's legal custody and can only be used with the agency's permission. As of August 1, 1997 a total of 112,547 cubic feet of NASA records are being stored by NARA in eight locations and more than 26,000 cubic feet of them have been appraised as having permanent value. Archivists generally talk in terms of cubic feet rather than number of pages because they are constantly looking for enough room to store everything. A one cubic foot box holds between two and three thousand pages of textual material so there is probably more than twenty-two million pages of material being stored. If the 112,547 boxes were stacked up they would only reach a fraction of the way to the Moon, but they still represent a huge haystack if a researcher is looking for even a few large needles.
The first step in the search is to determine where the records of any given NASA unit are being stored and who controls access to them.The problem is complicated by the fact that records from some NASA centers have ended up in several locations but, fortunately, the National Archives Guide provides descriptions of the records that are in NARA's legal custody and it is available on line at The only finding aids for NASA-owned records that are stored at NARA facilities are the original transmittal forms (SF-135's) and an "O-1" report generated by NARA that gives just a very a brief description of each shipment. Researchers should contact the Records Officer at NASA Headquarters for information about access to any of these records.
The National Archives building in College Park, Maryland holds the bulk of the records whose legal custody has been transferred to NARA. This includes correspondence, technical reports, minutes of committees, and related material created by NASA's predecessor , the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1915-1958) as well as various correspondence and reports accumulated in NASA headquarters through 1960. The NACA records include a great deal of information about the design and testing of military aircraft that has been heavily used by researchers.There are also miscellaneous office files of Homer Newell who was NASA Associate Administrator from 1965 to 1974.
The College Park facility is also the home for 54 boxes of "Correspondence and Other Records of the Director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, 1954-66" and 11 boxes of Langley records. The Langley material includes some general and formerly security-classified correspondence (1915-1958), speeches, and office files of Walter T. Boney who served as Assistant to the Executive Secretary. There are also historical notes, press clippings, and photos relating to other NACA centers (1916-1958) and reports on European aviation (1920-1951) that were prepared by John Jay Ide, a NACA technical assistant who was attached to the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Eighty-four feet of Naval Research Laboratory records on Project Vanguard have also been transferred to NARA's legal custody and are at the College Park facility. This material covers the period from 1955 to 1959 and includes correspondence, progress reports, press releases, articles, speeches, contract case files, and some technical drawings and photographs. Project Vanguard produced some spectacular failures before its first successful launch and these are documented in the records NARA has as well as the investigation of the accident involving the Delta 24 attempt to launch an unmanned ionosphere satellite from Cape Kennedy on March 19, 1964. There are 17 feet of correspondence and technical reports at the College Park facility that relate to the investigation of that incident.
Records relating to the two major manned space flight accidents have been transferred to NARA's legal custody and are available for use by researchers in College Park. There are about 200 cubic feet of records created by the Apollo 204 Review Board that investigated the fire that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967. This material includes the board's central correspondence files, records impounded after the accident, the working papers and technical reports of each of the twenty-one panels, some correspondence files of Frank Borman, and the board's final report. There are also some press clippings, ten reels of motion picture film, 400 photographs, 66 sound recordings, and four unidentified electrical components. Records of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Accident which was established to investigate the explosion of the Challenger, have been transferred to NARA and include 600 video recordings of network television coverage of the explosion. David Pfeiffer (301-713-7250 ext 352) is the person to contact for information about all of the records described above.
Many researchers are interested in still and motion pictures and sound recordings and they will find the bulk of these types of records at the NARA facility in College Park. There are 428 reels of motion pictures from the NASA Aeronautics and Space Reports series (1965-1980) and 59 reels on various topics and flights including The Eagle Has Landed: The Flight of Apollo 11. NARA has custody of 278 sound recordings including one reel of transmissions from Sputnik. There are 42,212 photographic prints, negatives, and transparencies as well as 3.193 lantern slides and 11 posters that include activities, facilities, equipment, and people. On February 19, 1997 NASA transferred the original still and motion picture in-flight imagery from the Mercury (13 rolls) and Gemini missions (31 rolls) to NARA. Les Waffen (301-713-7050 ext 253) is the person to contact for information about all audio-visual records.
More than 47,000 cubic feet of records from NASA Headquarters and the Goddard Space Flight Center are still in NASA's legal custody but are stored at NARA's Washington National Record Center in Suitland, Maryland. Over 21,000 cubic feet these have been appraised as permanent and will eventually join the material in College Park.
Although many of NASA's records are in College Park or Suitland, all of the neat stuff is by no means in Maryland. The National Archives-Mid-Atlantic Region in Philadelphia has legal custody of 350 cubic feet of records of the Langley Research Center that covers the period from 1918 to 1992 and include research and administrative correspondence, publications, reports, and some blueprints, charts, and photographs. The Philadelphia center also stores 113 cubic feet of NASA records from Langley of which 32 feet is appraised as permanent. Kellee Blake (215-597-0921) and Gina Williams (215-671-1242) are the people to contact for information about records in Philadelphia.
The National Archives-Southeast Region in Atlanta has legal custody of records of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center. The bulk of the Marshall records are subject files of center management (1957-1975) and research and development case files (1962-1974) that pertain to various projects including Nova, Nerva, Saturn, and Skylab. There are also some speech files of Wernher von Braun (1954-1958) and some of his foreign correspondence files (1958-1966). Atlanta also has records of the Manpower Office at Marshall that relate to the alien scientist program (1958-1971) and some charts, diagrams, and photographs.
The records of the Kennedy Space Center in NARA's legal custody in Atlanta include correspondence, management issuances, news releases, publications, training plans, transcripts of speeches, and various project files (1959-1993). There are about 500 engineering drawings and 16,560 negatives and photographs relating to Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and other projects. Atlanta also has some records (1936-1964) of a NACA Subcommittee on Lightning Hazards to Aircraft.
There are 17,120 cubic feet of NASA owned records from the Marshall and Kennedy Centers stored in Atlanta of which 671 have been appraised as permanent. Dr. Charlie Reeves (404-763-7065) is the person to contact for information about records in Atlanta.
The National Archives-Great Lakes Region in Chicago has legal custody of 163 cubic feet of records of the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland. These include records on the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) project (1961-1972) and correspondence, reports, studies, test notebooks and related material pertaining to other projects. Chicago also has copies of lectures and speeches given by Lewis staff members and a few engineering drawings and photographs. There are no NASA owned records stored in Chicago but 2 cubic feet of Lewis records are in the NARA facility in Dayton which is also a part of the Great Lakes Region. Scott Forsythe (773-581-7816) is the person to contact for information about records in Chicago or Dayton.
The National Archives-Pacific Southwest Region in Laguna Niguel (which is near Los Angeles) has legal custody of 195 cubic feet of records of the Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base which was, arguably, the home of the right stuff. This material covers the period from 1946 to 1959 and includes photos and the original pilot's notes, flight logs, and reports of the flights of the X-1 and other research aircraft. There are similar records and photos for the X-2 through X-5 and autographed photos of some X-15 pilots including Neil Armstrong. The center also has 17 feet of records of the NACA's Western Operations Office established at Moffett Field in 1939 and later transferred to NASA. This includes subject files (1939-1962), organizational history files (1959-1967), technical memoranda (1940-1962), and records of Edwin P. Hartman (1940-1956) who served as Coordinator of Research. There are also research and development project files from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that cover the period from 1971 to 1985 and relate to the Galileo, Halley, Mariner, Ulysses, and Venus missions. The center in Laguna Niguel stores 8,580 cubic feet of NASA owned records from the Jet Propulsion Lab but NPA and NED also. Suzanne Dewberry (714-360-2641) is the person to contact for information about records at Laguna Niguel.
The National Archives-Pacific Sierra Region located in San Francisco has legal custody of 1,022 cubic feet of records of the Ames Research Center (1939-1971) that document both theoretical and applied research and testing in areas such as aerodynamics, airframe problems, flight simulation, high performance aircraft technology, satellite re-entry, and wing de-icing. The records include correspondence, data sheets, minutes of meetings, specifications, and technical reports with some artwork, engineering drawings, and photographs. There are records relating to wind tunnel tests of the P-38 and P-51 and development of spacecraft such as Pioneer and Voyager. The center in San Francisco stores 20,241 cubic feet of NASA owned records from Ames of which 1,904 have been appraised as permanent. Dan Nealand (415-876-9009) is the person to contact for information about records at San Francisco.
Many of us who once worked for what is now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) believe that Houston has a claim to being home of the right stuff and it certainly produced some neat stuff. The National Archives-Southwest Region located in Fort Worth has legal custody of 711 cubic feet of records that cover the period from the establishment of the Space Task Group at Langley in 1958 to 1988. This includes the subject files (1958-1970) maintained by Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, the Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), and his Special Assistant Paul E. Purser from 1958 to 1964. All of this correspondence, reports, studies, minutes of meetings, and presentations made to Congress and higher NASA management contain a wealth of information about the development of all manned space programs including many that never got off the ground such as Project Dynasoar and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
A great deal of the other material relates to administration of MSC/JSC but there are records from many of the program offices including reference files on Projects Mercury and Gemini that were maintained by Warren North and the Flight Crew Operations Directorate. There are also nine feet of records relating to the Apollo 13 accident investigation that include technical reports and a few drawings and photographs. Eleven feet of reference files on Project Mercury that were assembled by the Marshall Space Flight Center also ended up as part of the records transferred by JSC to NARA and include many technical reports and drawings.
The JSC History Office assembled a number of excellent collections of material on various projects and then loaned them to the Woodson Research Center at Rice University. The collections on Mercury (39 feet) and Genini (94 feet) were later transferred to the NARA facility in Fort Worth and are open to researchers. These collections provide an excellent consolidated source of information about those programs and include flight plans, mission rules, air-to-ground transcripts, post-mission technical reports, press releases, and reports on press conferences. There are also many technical reports about flight hardware and procedures which sometimes include drawings and photographs. The collections on Apollo, Skylab, the Apollo-Soyouz Test Project, and the Shuttle are still at Rice University.
The NARA facility in Fort Worth stores 18,486 cubic feet of NASA owned records from the LBJ Space Center including 2,555 that have been appraised as permanent. This material includes the "flight data files" from Apollo 8 to 17 that include the flight plans, checklists, time lines, start charts, lunar maps that were carried to the moon and back. Many of them still have the small strips of velcro that were used to stick them to the walls of the Command Module so they wouldn't float away. Kent Carter (817-334-5515 ext 245) is the person to contact for information about records in Fort Worth.
Not every one of the twenty-two million pages are fascinating reading. Many are the typical administrative correspondence and reports generated by every federal bureaucracy, but any researcher interested in the U. S. space program could spend years going through the material and probably find some neat stuff about the right stuff in almost every box.

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