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Hampton, VA
Not Your Average BIM User: NASA Langley Research Center

By TJ McCueWednesday, September 10, 2014
Architecture, BIM, Reality Computing

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When you hear the name NASA, you think space exploration, astronauts, and just about everything that exists beyond our atmosphere. It is easy to overlook the other areas of operations that support that mission, in a myriad of ways, especially the subterranean ones. So when we arrived at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia, this week, we were not prepared for what Jason Harold had to share.

“We have done over 2,000 laser scans with our FARO Focus 130,” stated Jason. Scans of what, I asked. “Everything. We’ve scanned over two miles of tunnels, thousands of pieces of equipment, and well, we’re going to scan the entire base. But this project focuses on historic Building 1247, otherwise known as the Hypersonic Facilities Complex.”

This is a serious BIM project. NASA is using laser scanners, and stitching those scans together with ReCap, then pushing to Revit to create the BIM models. This is reality computing, on steroids. Jason is the right man for the job, too, as he’s willing and able to go underground, day after day, to get the work done. He’s also willing to climb high onto large gantry crane structures. Jason’s boss, Brad Ball, in a joking tone, mentions that Jason left a couple of registration targets on one of the taller structures. To which Jason replies, “you never know when we’ll have to go back up there.” (Photo above)

NASA Langley is embracing and customizing technology to suit their needs. They are one of the most forward-thinking organizations we’ve visited. NASA has plans to overhaul the whole facility, and sees the reality computing aspect as mission critical: Especially since the as-built drawings are often far from accurate. With 700 acres, and over 250 buildings, they need all the technology advantages they can find.

As a fun note: Sometimes NASA likes to live within our atmosphere, too, as we took a tour of the base with Brad and Jason, a digital sign offered upcoming events: How To Make A Tornado popped up as we drove by. 

I also should mention that NASA is a wild place with big thinkers, or to be fair, maybe a bit crazy, too. They have the world's largest water gun (which has a more official sounding name of Aircraft Landing Dynamics Facility -- see video) and was still in use not too long ago for testing space shuttle and aircraft landing gear, among other things. Here is the official NASA "water gun" page on the ALDF work as well. That large gantry (where Jason purportedly left laser scan targets), that is part of the “Landing and Impact Research Facility.” Jason called it a giant swing.

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