Tuesday, September 27, 2016

NASA in Virginia?

NASA Wanted Poster

Drive along route 13 in the Virginia portion of the DelMarVa Peninsula and turn East at T’s Corners. You will be on  Chincoteague Road and on your way to Chincoteague Island.

Many years ago, before retirement and our fulltime RV life, Fred and I turned off on this road on our way to Virginia Beach. We wanted to take a look at the Assateague Lighthouse.

Northup Gruuman E-2 Hawkeye in flight near NASA's Wallops Flight Facility
As we drove the narrow road we began to notice Navy jets  in low flight performing  touch and go maneuvers. High chain fences and a large Satellite array made us wonder aloud and then we saw the signs that welcomed us to NASA and the Wallops Flight Facility.   We saw a rocket display and the Visitor Center on the right, but we had limited time so didn’t stop. We vowed to return to visit this division of NASA that we had never heard of.  Last week we returned and spent an hour or so at the Visitor’s Center learning about the facility and its missions.

NASA’s Wallops Flight facility is one of the oldest flight facilities worldwide. It has many active missions.

Those military jets we noticed?  They are Navy pilots training for carrier landings.  Wallops Flight Facility provides airfield services to the US Fleet Command. All E-2 and C-2 pilots operating from an Aircraft Carrier must complete Carrier Qualification training here before practicing on an actual carrier. There can be up to 5 planes in the flight pattern at any time and they practice night as well as daytime hours. No wonder we saw so many.

Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Station is responsible for the satellite views that you see on evening weather reports. The data collected from NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental satellites is used to analyze coastal waters, provide meteorological data, and track hurricanes and tropical storms. They have been operating since 1966.

NASA has been monitoring Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets since 2009 with Operation IceBridge. This mission provides an annual 3D view of those ice sheets.  The data is then used by scientists in trying to understand sea level rise and it’s relation to polar ice melt.

NASA at Wallops provides launch opportunities for Suborbital Sounding Rockets. NASA supports around 20 launches a year. The last launch from Wallops was in August of this year in collaboration with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. We will plan our next trip around a launch.

I would also like to see one of those enormous high altitude balloons take flight. Again, next time.

The Visitor Center has information and displays that explain many of these missions.
There is no charge for admission.

MInds full of Space facts we continued down the road to Chincoteague Island.

Assateague Lighthouse

Assateague Lighthouse is in the Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge which is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We had been to the lighthouse before but never when it was open for climbing. This day we were in luck and were able to climb the 175 steps to the top. We walked out onto the catwalk and into a brisk wind. The 360 degree view was beautiful even on this windy and cloud covered day.

Chincoteague Island is possibly most well  known for its wild ponies.  They were made famous by Marguerite Henry in her children’s book Misty of Chincoteague published in 1947.  
The ponies run free on the island. It is not unusual to see them at the beach or walking along the road. We were lucky enough to see them running in the marsh this trip.

Wild ponies at Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge
 We finished our visit with a stop for lunch at Bill’s Seafood because when you are this close to the water in DelMarVa one must enjoy crab cakes.


  1. I love these photos, Mom - especially the wild ponies.

    1. Thanks Lis it was a great day. I do like the ponies but was glad they stayed in the distance. The last time we were there they followed us around begging for handouts. One even put its head in the front window of the car. Not fun.

  2. Wow...I never knew NASA had a facility in Virginia. Fascinating! 😀

    1. It was a surprise to us too when we first drive by. Even in the area it's not well publicized. Wish we had been able to coordinate our visit with a launch. Maybe we will be lucky to see another one from Melbourne.

  3. Bonnie/Fred:
    We are hoping to visit this area on our trip south. Thanks for posting this info as it will be useful for us. Safe travels.

    1. You are very welcome. I think you and Connie will really like it. Lots of room to bike on Chincoteague but make sure to bring bug spray.