Moon Rocket Stressful Days

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Apollo 09 David Scott podczas lotu Apollo 9 GPN-2000-001100.jpg This article is a Historical Essay
Written and submitted by
[[Grady Woodard]].

Grady’s Space Chronicles


Some of the most stressful days for me at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama. One was the first static firing of our Saturn 5 Test Vehicle Booster S-IC-T.

The Saturn 5 Moon Rocket Project started on January 25, 1963, to build seventeen flight rockets with and supporting tests vehicles. Supporting was a Static Test Vehicle, S-IC-T (live engines), a Dynamics Vehicle, S-IC-D (center engine functional with four outboard engine simulators), that followed by a Facility Test Vehicle, S-IC-F (no engines) and the Structural Test Model load test, S-IC-S (no engines).

MSFC built the research and development S-IC-T (SA-500) and the first production flight rockets, S-IC-1 (SA-501) and S-IC-2 (SA-502); and contracted to Boeing for the follow on production rockets, S-IC-3 through S-IC-17. The first static firing of the S-IC-T was on April 16, 1965, for 6.5 seconds with a full duration firing on August 5, 1965.

Everyone was waiting for the 5 PM static firing of the S-IC-T vehicle’s first firing. Being the Engine Project Engineer, I was worried about the assembly of five huge rocket engines firing 7.5 million pounds of thrust in one concentrated package. The power of an atom bomb never before has this been achieved on a rocket. I walked out of my office building across the street to the far end of the parking lot to get a view of this hillside event. I was about 2,000 yards from the test stand. The rocket’s tail section was sprayed with 28,000 gallons of water per minute to cool the rocket, test stand and the flame shield deflector is pointed in a downstream cannel to the Tennessee River away from the City of Huntsville..

Warning horns were blasting and when they stopped, the test firing was near. Then the whole hill side and the rocket was engulfed in black smoke and red flames. I was thinking the rocket blew up and it was my fault. With my eyes glued to the hill side, a heavy concussion of air traveling sound waves struck me like a ten ton truck The force caved in my stomach and knocked my breath out. I felt my eyeballs were popping out and with my hands over my ears, I was knocked down on the ground on my back. I didn‘t take my eyes of that hill side. In pain, I was wishing the firing would shut off for relief.

The 6.5 second test felt like twenty minutes. The black smoke gave way to the color of white smoke and settled nearer to the ground. I could see the rocket was still there. Getting by breath back, I slowly got to my feet after the rocket shut off. Everything looked great while white smoke trailed from the engines. I knew we did it! Then I mumbled, “Oh God, what have we done! Man has no business fooling with this kind of power!”

For the next few days, everyone was partying and was excided. I was feeling sad and felt like what Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer must have felt when he exploded the atom bomb on July 16, 1945. Creating and controlling this kind of power, the first after the atom bomb, weighted heavy on us. I was thinking about quitting my job! Co-workers urged me to join them and celebrate. Soon, work overcame this feeling and I was back into the space race.

Another stressful time was shipping our first giant Saturn S-IC-1 (SA-501) Moon Rocket to the Cape and the long six weeks of work preparing and shipment.

Shipment of the first booster S-IC-1, it’s various loose parts, kits, heat insulation and countdown instructions as well as the official turnover and transfer documentation was an awesome task. The barge shipments to the Cape proved to be humbling. As MSFC Center’s Cape Launch Coordinator, the job was mine. It took three months to prepare the loose equipment and ship it on a barge route as we were going to used for the first Saturn 5 Booster. I decided this in order to get a practice run on the Navy convoy to the Cape up the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and around the Florida Keys.

On August 26, 1966, was the day for moving the Saturn S-IC-1 Booster to the River dock and placed it onboard the barge Poseidon, it was very stressful. In an earlier meeting with the KSC Director Dr. Kurt Debus and his staff at the Cape, a transfer requirement was made on the first flight Saturn 5 rocket, S-IC-1. Debus requested in our transfer package, that we include a copy of all Engineering Waivers and a Certification for Flight Letter from MSFC.

I had spent many hours preparing the transfer package by coping and reviewing 1538 Engineering Waivers and preparing the Certification for Flight Letter for signatures on Vehicle S-IC-1. I notified my Cape Launch Co-Coordinator, Dr. Albert Zeiler, of its contents. He called me back and said, “Dr. Debus was upset about accepting a rocket with that many engineering waivers, he wanted each MSFC processing Laboratory Director to sign the Certification Letter. He wanted to be insured, that the rocket was designed, built, tested, inspected and is flight worthy.”

I spend months making shipment preparations and arrangements. I had just left the Packaging Building 4755, were the S-IC-1 Booster was getting prepared to roll down to the River Dock, an hour trip by a new road. I first started to get the Certification for Flight signatures with my Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (R-ME) Director, Werner Kuers. Mr. Kuers would not sign the transfer and told me “not to move that rocket one foot” until the others have signed and he told me he wanted to pose for pictures at the roll out and for me to arrange it with our Photo Lab.

I went to the Propulsion and Vehicle Engineering Laboratory (R-PV&E) Director William Lucas, he signed it and that it was designed to fly.

I then called on the Quality and Reliability Assurance Laboratory (R-QUAL) Director Dieter Grau, to sign. He would not sign until the Test Laboratory (R-TEST) Director Karl Heimburg, signs that the rocket was tested to flight specifications. I appealed to my friend, Dan Driscoll, Chief of Systems Test Division in R-TEST Lab, to explain the test acceptance he did on the rocket and try to get Heimburg to sign. Dan got his Lab’s signature while I waited.

I went to my friend, Deputy Director of R-QUAL, Dr. Jack Trott, whom I once worked for in the R-ME Lab to get his Director, Dieter Grau, to sign. Jack got his Lab’s signature. I was running out of time.

I reported to Mr. Kuers to get his signature for the rocket being built to design drawings. As he was signing, he asked me to take him to the roll out. I looked out the window over his shoulder and saw the Booster moving down the special loading road to the River Dock. I told him we needed to go now and I took him down to the River. The rocket was being backed into the barge when we got there. We stood by the filming crew, he just looked at me and I gestured that I didn’t know the rocket was on it‘s way. I was totally drained! Maybe tomorrow will be a better day!