Skip to content

UTSI Celebrates its Golden Anniversary

The University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) marked its 50th anniversary with a two-day celebration September 11-12.

As many as 300 people gathered to celebrate this milestone of the institute.

The celebration events included a picnic, games, concerts, comedy show with well-known comedian Henry Cho, fireworks, a historical and technical session, student poster presentations, and a banquet.

Several UTSI alumni and professors participated in the historical and technical session. Notable guest speakers included: David Hiebert, retired AEDC historian; Wesley Harris, first UT/UTSI Vice President; James Wu, UTSI Professor Emeritus; Roger Crawford, UTSI alum and Professor Emeritus; John Rampy, UTSI alum and retired AEDC Exec Director; Pete Hoffman, UTSI alum and Boeing Vice President; and Winfried (Wimp) Goethert, son of UTSI founder.

“It was great to be a participant in the two-day celebration at UTSI,” College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis said. “The college has played a very active role in the institute, including its inception in 1964 as well as prior to that time when engineering courses were offered at Arnold Air Force Base and at AEDC.”

UTSI, located on Woods Reservoir in rural Tullahoma, was founded in 1964 to support Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base as an education and research facility.

The campus is adjacent to AEDC and the Air Force Base on 365 acres made available by the US Air Force and granted to UTSI by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Talks to open a space technology institute began as early as 1949.

In 1956, the Air Force 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.

Joel Bailey was the initial director of the UT effort followed by Robert Young.

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958, the need for space education was noticeable at AEDC and NASA. At that time, there were very few academic institutions offering engineering courses in space technology. B. H. Goethert seized upon this national need and proposed to both the Air Force and Tennessee state government that a space institute be built in Tullahoma near AEDC. As a result of Goethert’s proposal, UTSI was established and Goethert was appointed first dean of the institute.

“Let us not make the mistake of believing that all that is necessary is to erect a minimum square building at the shore of the AEDC lake and nail a shingle ‘Space Institute’ over the doorstep,” Goethert said at a 1963 ceremony. “It must inspire scientists and express a vision of an institute equaling or exceeding any other space center on this continent or abroad.”

UTSI has lived up to those words—becoming an internationally recognized institution for graduate study and research in engineering, physics, mathematics, and aviation systems and has made remarkable contributions at the local, state, national, and global levels.

In its 50 years, UTSI has had more than 2,000 graduates, including 250 doctorates and nine astronauts.

“Our graduates stand as a testament to our contributions to both aerospace and the defense of the country,” UTSI Executive Director Robert “Buddy” Moore said. “We’re also focused on making scientific and technical advances, not only in issues surrounding flight but in the automotive industry as well.”

The next 50 years look promising for UTSI.

With the recent plans to go hypersonic under the direction of John Schmisseur, UTSI will no doubt continue to make noteworthy contributions to space technology.

“We are particularly excited about the future and the closer relationship that we have now have at UTSI,” Davis said. “There are many new initiatives under way such as the hypersonics program that should really bode well for the partnership that we have with the base, the companies in the Tullahoma area and the overall community.”