UTSI was born in the aftermath of World War II and in the midst of the Cold War. The seeds that ultimately led to UTSI began in the 1930s. Victorious in World War I, the United States had assumed an attitude of arrogant superiority. It believed itself to be impregnable and the leader of the world in all fields of science. This was shown to not be true. German aeronautical superiority resulted in German fielding of the first jet propelled aircraft and ballistic missiles. Had the German manufacturing capability been equivalent to that of the United States, the outcome of World War II would no doubt have been different.
President Harry Truman vowed in 1951 that, “Never again will the United States ride the coattails of other countries in the progress and development of the aeronautical art.”
In the wake of World War II and in the following decades, the military greatly expanded its research capabilities, creating laboratories across the country, including the construction of airplane and missile airframe and propulsion systems wind tunnels and laboratories at Tullahoma, Tennessee. Construction of this facility, which was to be known as Arnold Engineering Development Center, began in 1950.
It was immediately recognized that there would be difficulties in attracting scientific personnel to conduct advanced R&D, or to analyze and evaluate the results of testing in wind tunnels and engine test facilities. Numerous efforts were conducted while AEDC was under construction to develop a viable concept for an education and research institute that would exist in a collaborative relationship with AEDC. In 1952, an Institute of Flight Sciences was strongly recommended to foster graduate programs, lecture and symposia programs, and student research in the aeronautical sciences.
General Jimmy Doolitte, Secretary of the Air Force Quarles, Donald Douglas of Douglas Aircraft Company, along with NACA, MIT, and Cal Tech scientists supported the concept as sound and in the national interest. However, no consensus could be developed as to how to proceed and the concept was abandoned in 1959. In 1956, however, the Air Force decided it could not wait any longer and made contractual arrangements with the University of Tennessee to establish an AEDC graduate study program for center employees, using office and classroom space provided by the Air Force. Dr. Joel F. Bailey was the initial director of the UT effort, followed by Dr. Robert L. Young.
The year 1958 sent a new shock wave throughout the world when the Soviet Union orbited the Sputnik satellite. In the aftermath of this event, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formed. NASA initially considered absorbing AEDC, but ultimately decided to leave it with the Air Force. However, the need for space education was severely felt at AEDC, just as throughout the rest of the military and at NASA.
Very few academic institutions offered engineering or refresher courses in space technology at that time. Dr. B.H. Goethert seized upon this national need and proposed to the Air Force and the State of Tennessee that a “Tennessee Aerospace Institute” be located near AEDC. As a result of Dr. Goethert’s proposal, the University of Tennessee Space Institute was finally established in 1964.
UTSI is an institution unlike any in the United States, perhaps even the entire world. It plays a unique role of vital importance to the US Air Force, and is thus a critical element in the preservation of freedoms and security that Americans have long come to enjoy. It was founded in the wake of two technological revolutions – the development of the airplane and the development of the rocket. In the years since 1964, UTSI’s faculty, students, and alumni have played critical roles in the furthering of American technological superiority in aeronautics and space arenas.