There are few places in the United States where you can walk inside a life-sized piece of history. You can walk into a museum and see all of the artifacts, artwork, or airplanes that have been transported there with their descriptive signs and plaques next to them. You can watch movies and newsreels of past events and see the people that made history. But how many times have you had the opportunity to step inside history, stand in the exact same place as these historic figures, or even sit in the same equipment that changed the history of science across the globe?
In my travels to Pennsylvania working with the NASTAR Center I have grown more and more interested in centrifuge research and of course the history that goes with it. Lucky for me the world’s largest/most powerful centrifuge to date is located only about 15 minutes away from NASTAR and the wonderful people that are involved in its preservation and museum were nice enough to accommodate us for a private tour of the facility.
The Johnsville Centrifuge located in Warminster, PA, once the home of the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center, is no longer running but is still in its building with all of the control rooms intact. Just pulling up out front of this 6-story tall giant round building you are struck with the realization of what once occurred on these grounds. For instance, a huge ejection seat tower looms adjacent to the parking area. This place did serious research that not only helped increase safety for military aviators but played a very significant role in the Space Race.
Stepping inside the doors into the lobby you quickly realize that you are walking in the same halls as so many incredibly historical figures also did, including presidents, scientists, military brass, fighter pilots, and of course, astronauts. From the briefing room to the observation room where the astronauts and test subjects would wait for their turn in the gondola, you can feel the energy. This is living history.
The stories within the walls are far too many to be crammed into one blog, so please keep checking back for others as I research more about the facility and its history which is rich with untold stories. From water tubs and lazy boys being strapped to the gondola to hand-written notes on the walls, you are surrounded by unimaginable amounts of history.
If you are ever in the vicinity of Philadelphia or Warminster I highly recommend taking the time to get in touch with the museum and check out this amazing location for yourself. Nowhere else will you experience the opportunity to stand, touch, sit and imagine in the exact same spot as people like Alan Sheppard, John Glen, and Neil Armstrong just to name a few!
Also, for anyone interested in finding out more about this amazing place please visit their website or contact Go Inverted. They are currently looking for donations and/or investors to save the entire building and the equipment from being lost to development with the goal of creating a full-blown museum and event center (believe it or not you can rent it out now and hold events on the floor of the centrifuge with the arm and the gondola set as the backdrop). This is an historic site that would be sad to see lost, so if you have any ideas or if you are interested in donating please let us know.