Something I Felt, My NASA Moment

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Grady's Space Chronicles

"Something I Felt, My NASA Moment"

On April 16, 1965 - Everyone at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was waiting for the Saturn S-IC-T, 5 PM first static firing of the World’s biggest rocket. I was the Engine Project Engineer and was worried about the assembly of five huge rocket engines firing 7.5 million pounds of thrust in one concentrated package. It had the power of an Atom bomb and never before had this been achieved on a rocket. From my office building, I crossed the street to the far end of the parking lot for a view of the hillside Test Stand. I was about 2,000 yards away. The rocket’s tail section was getting sprayed with 28,000 gallons of water per minute to cool the rocket, test stand and the flame shield deflector pointed in a downstream cannel to the Tennessee River away from the City of Huntsville.

Warning horns were blasting and the test firing was near. With the loudest blast of 118 volume decibels, the whole hill side and 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 hill, a heavy sonic blast of sound waves traveling at a velocity of 6,900 m/s, struck me like a ten ton truck The force knocked me down, caved in my stomach and knocked my breath out. With my hands over my ears, I felt my eyeballs were popping out I didn‘t take my eyes of that hill. I was wishing the firing would shut off for pain relief. The 6.5 second test felt like twenty minutes. The rocket shut off and the black smoke gave way to the color of white and settling nearer the ground. I could see the dim shape of the rocket, it was still there! Getting my breath back, I got to my feet. Everything looked Great as white smoke trailed from the engines. I mumbled, “Oh God, what have we done, Man has no business fooling with this kind of power.”

The next day, everyone was excided and partying with cake and coffee. I was feeling sad and felt what Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer felt when he exploded the Atom bomb on July 16, 1945. I was depressed and I didn’t want anything to do with this new found “God like” power, where would this lead us? If mismanaged, awesome things could come to us! My coworkers inquired why I was not celebrating? My old German Branch Head, Robert Paetz, now Saturn 5 Project Manager, came to visit us and he talked to me. Mr. Paetz said, “It means we can fulfill President Kennedy and America’s dream of putting a Man on the Moon, achieving one of the Greatest events ever for Mankind!” I then joined the celebration and our work continued. It was something I felt, “My NASA Moment.”

We always had damage in the City from our rocket blasts. This time, store windows were broken, pictures fell and dishes were broken. The Saturn 5 rocket stands 36 stories tall,33 feet in Diameter and burns 30,000 lbs of fuel per second. It is still and may always be, the biggest rocket man ever built! Ten times the speed of a rifle bullet. On July 20, 1969, we put a Man on the Moon.