Electronics Research Center

Coordinates: 42°21′50.67″N 71°5′8.16″W / 42.3640750°N 71.0856000°W / 42.3640750; -71.0856000
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Model of the Electronics Research Centers first phase of construction is examined by (from left) Dr. Albert J. Kelley, Deputy Director; Edward Durell Stone, and Dr. Winston E. Kock, Director

The Electronics Research Center (ERC) was a NASA research facility located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the street from MIT at Kendall Square. The ERC opened in September 1964[1] as the successor to the North Eastern Operations Office, which opened in July 1962. The Centre took over the administration of contracts, grants, and other NASA business in New England previously housed at the North Eastern Operations Office, and was closed in June 1970. Its former campus is now the site of the United States Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

NASA’s fundamental dependence on electronics and its need for internal expertise drove the agency to create an entirely new centre, the Electronics Research Center.


During the Apollo era, the Electronics Research Center (ERC) played a role in fostering the in-house expertise of the space agency in electronics. Beyond its primary function, the ERC served as a hub for graduate and postgraduate training within the collaborative framework of a regional government-industry-university alliance. Recognised as a centre of comparable significance to other NASA field centers like the Langley Research Center and the Marshall Space Flight Center, the ERC aimed to employ a workforce of 1,600 professionals and technical experts, along with 500 individuals in administrative and support roles by the year 1968.[2]


The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, originally the Electronics Research Center, in 2011

The centre was located in Cambridge due to Massachusetts politicians unsuccessfully lobbying for the Manned Spacecraft Center.[3] The centre began operations in Technology Square on Main Street while its campus was under construction on Broadway. The location of the ERC allowed it to take advantage of its proximity to MIT, and to a lesser extent it benefited from proximity to Harvard University, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories, and the electronics industry located along Massachusetts Route 128. At the time of the Center's founding, the technical, industrial, and commercial aspects of microelectronics were ascendant, especially in the Boston-Cambridge Technopolis.

Nature of research[edit]

Research at the ERC was conducted in ten different laboratories:

Researchers investigated such areas as microwave and laser communications; the miniaturization and radiation resistance of electronic components, guidance and control systems, photovoltaic energy conversion, information display devices, instrumentation, and computers and data processing.

Although no publication has investigated the nature of the research or professional training conducted at the ERC, an internal NASA publication lists a few accomplishments identified with the center, such as:

"One particularly interesting development," the source added, "has been in the area of holography. At the Electronics Research Center, holography has been used for data storage and has permitted a remarkable degree of data compression in the storing of star patterns" (Preliminary History, 1:V-11, 1:V-34 & 1:V-35). A book on holography written by one of the ERC's directors, Dr. Winston Kock, indicates some of the facility's contributions, such as Lowell Rosen's improvement of focused-image holography (Kock, 80-82).[4]

Controversy and Funding[edit]

The Electronics Research Center was the subject of political controversy from the start. President John F. Kennedy and NASA administrator James Webb kept the project out of the budget process until after Ted Kennedy's first election to the Senate. After the President belatedly put the ERC project in the budget process, Congress rebelled. In addition to Republican members, Representatives from the Midwest and other regions felt that they had been swindled out of the NASA budget. The issue split the Congress along both party and regional lines.[5] As a result, the ERC had the most deliberated and defended existence and siting of any NASA Center.

The ERC grew while NASA eliminated major programs and cut staff. Between 1967 and 1970, NASA cut permanent civil service workers at all Centers with one exception, the ERC, whose personnel grew annually. The largest cuts had been the Marshall Space Flight Center, whose future was then the subject of agency debate.[6]

NASA administrator James Webb helped shape the ERC. Webb saw it as fulfilling a broader mission as part of the nation's Cold War struggle on the economic and intellectual battleground of the Space Race. The ERC was an archetype for Webb's regional "university-industry-government complex" analogous to the military-industrial complex, organized because Webb believed that no single institution had the requisite resources to fight this war. The ERC's training of critically needed engineers and scientists served the same aim as the Cold War. [7]

The ERC has received hardly any attention as a subject of scholarly or lay studies. No single work, neither book nor article, has been devoted to the ERC itself. The few works that consider the ERC other than in passing focus on the turbulent political circumstances surrounding its creation. A thesis written for the MIT Sloan School of Management is the only known work that deals solely with the facility's closing.[8]


  1. ^ Buderi, Robert (2022-05-15). "The weird true story of how NASA almost ended up with a huge campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts". Salon. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  2. ^ Kelley 1963.
  3. ^ Fitzpatrick, Garret (21 August 2012). "Duck Pin, We Have a Problem". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on 6 January 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  4. ^ Kock (October 1, 1981). Lasers and Holography. Courier Corporation. pp. 80–82. ISBN 048624041X.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  5. ^ Murphy, Thomas. Science, Geopolitics, and Federal Spending. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1971.
  6. ^ "Electronics Research Center". history.nasa.gov. Retrieved 2023-12-26.
  7. ^ McDougall 1985, pp. 376, 381.
  8. ^ Rollins, Robert H., II. "Closing of the NASA Electronics Research Center: A Study of the Reallocation of Space Program Talent." M.S. Thesis, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, MIT, May 1970, 106-187, in Boyd C. Myers, II. A Report on the Closing of the NASA Electronics Research Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Washington: NASA, October 1, 1970. online at http://klabs.org/history/erc/erc_close.pdf
  • "Effort Embraces Spectrum from SST to Private Planes." Aerospace Technology, November 20, 1967, 21:11, 56-7.
  • Hechler, Ken. Toward the Endless Frontier: History of the Committee on Science and Technology, 1959-1979. Washington, DC: GPO, 1980.
  • Kelley, Albert J. (January 1963). Preliminary draft, Staff Report on the Electronics Research Center, File 4878, NASA Historical Reference Collection (Report). Washington, DC: NASA History Office.
  • Levine, Arnold S. (1982). Managing NASA in the Apollo Era SP-4102 (PDF) (Report). Washington: NASA.
  • Mark, Hans; Levine, Arnold (1984). The Management of Research Institutions: A Look at Government Laboratories SP-481 (PDF). Washington: NASA.
  • McDougall, Walter A. (1985). ... The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. New York: Basic Books..
  • "Preliminary History of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson: Final Edition." Manuscript. 2 vols. Washington: NASA, 1969.
  • Rhea, John. "ERC is Focal Point of Future Efforts." Aerospace Technology, November 20, 1967, 21:11, 53-6.
  • Rollins, Robert H., II. "Closing of the NASA Electronics Research Center: A Study of the Reallocation of Space Program Talent." M.S. Thesis, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, MIT, May 1970, 106-187, in Boyd C. Myers, II. A Report on the Closing of the NASA Electronics Research Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Washington: NASA, October 1, 1970.
  • Tomayko, James E. Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience. New York: M. Dekker, 1987. Also published as Computers in Space: Journeys with NASA. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 1994.

Proceedings of ERC symposia[edit]

From the Washington: Scientific and Technical Information Division, NASA

  • Evaluation of Motion-Degraded Images. NASASP-193. 1969.
  • Future Fields of Control Application. NASA SP-211. 1969.
  • NASA Inter-Center Control Systems Conference. 1978.
  • Proceedings of the Computer-aided System Design Seminar. 1969. MIT, April 9, 1969.
  • Recent Advances in Display Media. NASA SP-159. 1968.
  • Spaceborne Multiprocessing Seminar. Cambridge: ERC, 1966.
  • Kennedy, Robert S., and Sherman Karp, ed. Optical Space Communication. NASA SP 217. 1969.
  • Mannella, Gene G., ed. Aerospace Measurement Techniques. NASA SP-132. 1967.
  • Thompson, William I., III. The Color of the Ocean. 1969.

External links[edit]

42°21′50.67″N 71°5′8.16″W / 42.3640750°N 71.0856000°W / 42.3640750; -71.0856000