River Of Moon Rockets
Grady's Space Chronicles
RIVER OF MOON ROCKETS
(Saturn Rocket Transportation System)
In October 1959, while still under the Army, the Advance Research Projects Office gave the go-ahead for the Ordnance Missile Command to do engineering studies using the Tennessee River for transportation and dock facilities assessable to our manufacturing complex at Redstone Arsenal and transportation to the Cape. By December, construction started for docks with electrical winches for roll-on/roll-off operations and design for a barge to carry the oversize boosters to Cape Canaveral. We were organized into NASA on July 1, 1960.
Shortly after the launch of Mercury-Redstone MR-2 lofting it’s passenger Ham into sub orbit on January 31, 1961, I received an NASA assignment duties as MSFC’s Cape Launch Coordinator. A single point of contact for KSC Director’s Office for their needs for scheduling and the status of preparing for launches and the delivery of the hardware, it’s documentation, instructions and support for the vehicles on the launch Pad.
The new Coordinator duties were above my local Lab duties for engineering assignments included explosives, rocket engines and the SkyLab Environmental System for the astronauts. My new added duties covered any launch help requests including technical support, replacement valves, switches or control devices, engines and explosives. Mr. Jewell W. Brady, of our Lab’s Supply Branch, would handle requests for stock nuts and bolts or raw materials items. Things picked up with the launch of America’s first manned launch of Al Shephard onboard MR-3 on May 5, 1961.
Being on call 24/7 while a vehicle was on the Launch Pad for the Cape’s needs wasn’t so bad but, the logistics of getting everything to and from the Cape was sometime mind boggling. Requiring me to take many trips to the Cape, for launch planning requirements before and after for clean up, comments and start the failure investigations for components returning to MSFC.
I enjoyed making my stay in Coco Beach at the Polaris Motel, a great beach view of night launches. When my overtime hours expired, I didn’t get paid. I would get placed on standby duty when systems tests were being on the pad (paid 16 out of 24 hours until released (NASA Mgt. Manual Ch 17-6-1-7). MSFC did not adopt this section since it was for launch preparations only. Many times, I had to work with out pay.
On Easter week-end, Friday, April 16, 1965, at 3:25 PM, I received a call from Dr. Zeiler at the Cape, placing me on standby duty for the next morning at 8 AM. The Cape was running Engine Hydraulic Tests and needed me on stand by call. I asked my Unit Supervisor John Lands, if I had to work the request as I had no more over time hours authorized and MSFC didn’t pay for standby duty. John rushed to check with the Division, as we were leaving work at 3:30 PM. My family was going on a trip for Easter as soon as I got home. John Lands could not get approval and said I couldn’t work more Comp time (compensatory time off - hours taken for leave later) that had reached the limit allowed, what should I do? He said, “If it has me, I would work to save my job, don’t worry I will work it out by letting you off early on week days.“
I worked standby until I got a release call on Easter Sunday at 1 PM. I kept up with the time and the following Tuesday, I asked John if I could leave an hour early. He said OK, just sign out at the regular 3:30 PM quitting time as usual and leave. I got stopped at the MP Gate for a vehicle check and search, the time was recorded. By the end of the week, I get a warning letter for leaving work too soon and I signed out too early. I was docked the time with a warning and that ended the pay back for working standby time. I was called many times for standby time and many times I could not get paid. John Lands tried but, I told him, “Well, look at the great experience I’m getting working with the Cape team.” The duration of my eight years working as Cape Launch Coordinator, I gained so much valuable knowledge I considered the unpaid time a gift for learning, as a Rocket Team member and my Patriotic duty.
The launch vehicles themselves were a lot of problems as they were so big and had a lot of loose equipment and parts that had to have special transportation needs with Navy escorts for River and Sea Travel. Everything in the logistics system had to have special packaging instructions and most could not use standard procedures as these were all new critical designed perimeters and must be “Man Flight Rated” to prevent lost of life.
Because the Saturn vehicles were originally for the highest integrity and manned missions, it would be inadvisable to degrade the integrity of the Saturn components by using inferior transport modes and techniques. Rocket stages were transported thousands of miles and experienced hundreds of hours of constant vibration. There were the possibility of damage to welded joints and seals, as well as delicate components that were manufactured to very high tolerances and tested. The logistics of rocket stages and parts were not to be taken lightly. Vehicle transporters and sea going barges with tug boats were made as roll-on/roll-off operations. MSFC and the Cape had to build docks on the rivers to facilitate the needs.
The heavy stuff began with a disaster on the Tennessee River System. Movement of the Saturn Boosters from MSFC to KSC for launching was planned to use the River systems for boosters and second stages and the Guppy Airplanes for smaller components. Saturn SA-1 and SA-2 had problems when the Wheeler Dam’s new lock was tested on Friday, 6/2/61. When the water load test was done, the inside wall of the lock broke loose from it’s footing in the River bed and it pushed outward into the river with the top tilted into the lock.
That following Monday morning, my Branch Head, Robert Peatz and Lab Director Werner Kuers, rushed into my Office. Mr. Peatz was excided and asked, “Mr. Woodard, will the accident at Wheeler Dam Lock delay the launch of SA-1?” I was puzzled, I didn’t hear about this problem. Mr. Peatz suggested I do something about the problem and let him know as soon as possible for a later meeting. I got right on it and started investigating the problem. This would delay the launches a few weeks.
The SA-1 and SA-2 boosters had to be moved overland below the Wheeler Dam and loaded abroad a waiting barge to KSC. The lock was repaired and opened in the Spring of 1962. Normal lock use resumed with the SA-3 booster.
Time Line of the River Route Bypass: 08/06/61 SA-1 Booster leaves MSFC. 08/09/61 SA-1 Booster arrives at Wheeler and starts down River to KSC. 08/14/61 SA-1 Booster arrives at KSC. 10/27/61 SA-1 Launched "High Water 1". The same routine for the next vehicles. 02/27/62 SA-2 Booster arrived at KSC. 04/25/62 SA-2 Launched "High Water 2". 11/16/62 SA-3 Launched "High Water 3“.
The work-around routing including temporary a roadway around the Wheeler Dam to a point near Muscle Shoals for some 18 miles, bypassing the Wilson Dam. Docks had to be built to load and unload from the land transporter and the barges.
The Transportation Equipment was massive and were a great thing to work with. The Barge had environmental control systems and a crew of 12 men to operate and sail it.. A rowdy red-headed Merchant Marine Captain was hired from New Orleans to command it, sober or not, the skipper worked hard on this project. I used the system to ship the large amount of loose equipment to the Cape such as the engine massive thermal insulation blanket kits, 17 large boxes per engine and stopping off in New Orleans for the Tail Fins and sea inspections. I invited the Inspector to our docks to inspect our work for sea safety rules, doing tie downs and packaging procedures to save time. It was a ten day journey normally.
Arrangements were made for a Navy escort to the Cape including a submarine, destroyer, tanker and a spare sea going tug. On our first load, the Captain and the Inspector got into a huge disagreement over who was in control of the barge. The Inspector went back to New Orleans. I had to really work hard to get the Inspector back by giving leave to the Barge Captain and making sure they would not see one another.
The fleet of barges used were the Poseidon for Saturn I, the Orion Barge for the Saturn 5 with its new enlarge barge to handle it’s massive size; and also it used for loose equipment. I saved the tie down don age material for reuse. Everything became more tense in this project and more costly.
Another mode of transport shipments involved the Guppy Airplanes, a converted Boeing B-377, know as the Pregnant Guppy, with for 14 foot wide cargo and the C-97 Super Guppy. Three other visions of the C-97 were made including the 377 MG “Mighty Guppy” for the Saturn 2nd Stage at 22 foot wide cargo.
My Coordinator job was for eight years (if only we had Cell Phones back then, it would have helped a lot). I never missed a deadline or a phone call for service at all hours or day. I was told that was why I was picked for that job. It was said by experts that the task was as mind-boggling as building the moon rocket itself. Looked back at the many times over the years I had worked without pay when overtime had stopped. I worked as a Rocket Team member and it was my Patriotic Duty. I did get a lot of experience and a lifetime of memories!
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