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Former HC resident, NASA engineer visits display at Heritage Center

Jul 16, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Former NASA aerospace engineer Edwin Saltzman visited his debut exhibit at the Henry County Heritage Trust Center on Saturday, July 14. A Henry County native and Iowa Wesleyan University graduate, Saltzman now lives in California.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Former NASA aerospace engineer Edwin Saltzman was stopped by long-lost friends and distant relatives as he leisurely made his way to the Henry County Heritage Center where an exhibit was debuted in his honor Saturday, July 14.

Saltzman, 92, has slowly been sending artifacts to the Center for years, wanting to preserve history where it can be viewed by the public rather than passing it on to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and risk it being misplaced. A Henry County native and 1950 graduate from Iowa Wesleyan University (IW), Saltzman traveled from his home in Bakersfield, Calif. for a family reunion and to see the new exhibit.

“Naturally, working 52 years at the same place you accumulate artifacts,” Saltzman said. “I believed they were interesting enough to try to find a home.”

While Saltzman is well-known for his innovative work on truck fairings, he is most proud of his work on the X-15 airplane, an innovative NASA project necessary for the development of the space shuttle.

“It was the airplane I worked on the most, enjoyed the most, wrote more reports on than any other,” Saltzman said as he took out a model X-15 airplane from a box brought all the way from California and placed it on the display at the Center.

“He was always very proud of the work he did on that plane,” said Beth Rothfuss, Saltzman’s daughter from Livermore, Calif.

Saltzman acquired the model X-15 plane with the help of his youngest son, who works at NASA. His granddaughter, too, works at NASA in the very department Salzman retired from in 2003. At the time of Saltzman’s retirement, the department was called the Dryden Flight Research Center. Now, it is called the Armstrong Flight Research Center.

The other work Saltzman is known for saves the trucking industry $1 million every week, he said. Saltzman’s low drag truck design, tested by NASA, improves the aerodynamics of semitrucks, reducing the resistance between the vehicle and the air.

Saltzman carries yet another legacy — recovering the original flight data for the XS-1 Airplane, which was the first to fly at the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947. The data, called the Mach Film, is in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Saltzman possesses a copy of the Mach Film.

Pat White, Henry County Heritage Trust Treasurer, believes this is the main reason Saltzman sought out the Center as a home for the history he possesses. “That was the original intent of him looking for a place where he could donate photos and information about his work with NASA,” she said.

Saltzman corroborated that theory, saying once the Center proves they have an adequate way of displaying a copy of the Mach Film data, he will donate it to the Center.

Overall, Saltzman is impressed with the display and pleased to see which artifacts the Center chose. He clearly remembers his first day at NASA on July 2, 1951, a career he stumbled across almost accidentally after growing ill from his work at the Iowa Ordnance Plant, now known as the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.

“It made me sick and I had to get a different job and that’s how I ended up in California,” Saltzman said simply.

Even before that, however, he contributes one of his English professors at IW, where he studied physics and mathematics, with his success in his field.

IW professor Esther Webb encouraged Saltzman to write, a skill that became very useful in the work he did at NASA.

“Being trained by (Webb) was great help. I even came to like writing poetry,” Saltzman said with a laugh.

As visitors admired Saltzman’s display at the Center Saturday, many recalled their distant relationship to him.

Wini Boschart Wilt’s great-grandfather and Saltzman’s great-grandfather were brothers. Not until hearing about the exhibit did she realize the connection the family had with NASA.

Roice Miller’s aunt married Saltzman’s father. In 1954, Miller was invited by Saltzman to see the X-15 in person.

“(Saltzman) got us into the airplane hangar where it was fired up,” Miller recounted. “You never saw such a cloud of dust in the desert.”

Saltzman added, “That was kind of a thunderous noise.”

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