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Wind Tunnels Become History

Two huge wind tunnels that NASA and the Pentagon used to test the take-off and landing abilities of aircraft including the space shuttle could soon be history. Friday, officials at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View mothballed the tunnels … the largest and second-largest such facilities in the world. Officials cited federal budget cuts, fewer defense contracts and the rising use of computer simulations in aerodynamics research.

The move is expected to save $12 million a year and result in layoffs for 23 contractors.

The largest tunnel will be used one more time next month to test the parachutes attached to two space rovers headed to Mars. Then both will be closed down, unless major contracts from the Pentagon or the private sector materialize in the next 18 months.