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Final Years

Engine firing in test stand
The firing of a high-aspect ratio cooled chamber was one of the RETF’s final runs (6/21/1995).

After years of negotiation, NASA removed the Rocket Engine Test Facility (RETF) in 2004 to make way for a runway expansion at the adjacent Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. An extensive effort was undertaken to document the history prior to the removal of this National Historic Landmark.

National Historic Landmark Designation

In 1984 the National Park Service designated the RETF as a National Historic Landmark because of its contributions in developing lightweight, regeneratively cooled, hydrogen-fueled rocket engines. It stated that, “The specific accomplishments that resulted from this work at the RETF were the development of the RL‒10 engine for the Centaur rocket, the J‒2 engine for the Saturn rocket, and hydrogen-oxygen engines currently used by the Space Shuttle.” The designation was part of the larger Man in Space ‒A National Historic Landmark Theme Study that named a number of NASA facilities across the country as National Historic Landmarks, including Lewis’s Zero Gravity Facility and the Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility (B‒2).


Runway Expansion

The RETF was located immediately adjacent to the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. As early as 1977, a proposed expansion of the airport threatened the future of RETF. The airport sought a longer runway that required the use ofthe section of NASA property at the southern end of the center’s campus on which the RETF was situated. Throughout the 1980s, negotiations between the City of Cleveland and Brook Park failed to reach an agreement on an alternative plan that would allow the airport to expand toward a direction that would not affect the RETF. In the early 1990s NASA developed plans for an extensive rehabilitation of the RETF.

A decision was finally made in 1995 to proceed with the runway extension. NASA management reassessed the situation and decided against further investment in the RETF. The Space Propulsion Technology Division at NASA did not have programs that exclusively required the RETF at that point in time, and no future program funds were anticipated that could offset operational costs at the facility. NASA subsequently canceled their plans to rehabilitate the facility, and announced that the RETF would close permanently. The last tests were completed at the facility during the first half of 1995, and the official shutdown date was July 1, 1995.

The RETF remained vacant and in “Inactive-Mothballed” status for the next eight years. The entire RETF site was demolished in 2003. The city completed the new runway in 2004. Test Stand B was reconstituted as the Altitude Combustion Stand in a new location in the mid-2000s.


Historic Mitigation Project

NASA Glenn, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the City of Cleveland, explored many alternatives and performed a thorough Environmental Assessment before having to dismantle the facility in 2003. As a National Historic Landmark, the RETF was afforded the highest protections from potentially damaging federal actions, such as demolition. Because the City of Cleveland needed to demolish the RETF in order to construct a new airport runway, they were required to mitigate the loss by recording the history of the RETF.

NASA Glenn, a federal agency, partnered with the non-federal Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OPHO) and the City of Cleveland to compensate for the loss of the RETF through exemplary historical mitigation. The City of Cleveland hired Middough Consulting Inc. to perform the historic mitigation work for the RETF. Middough contracted with Hardlines Design Company to create and manage the records and hire subcontractors to complete specific tasks. Hardlines worked closely with Glenn, the OHPO, and the City of Cleveland throughout this process. Several divisions at Glenn were involved in this process.

The documentation, which was initiated on May 15, 2002, included Level I Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation; a documentary video, historical manuscript, museum display, and interactive website; and the collection of oral histories, documents, photographs, and artifacts. Further information on these items is available in the Publications section.

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