Dr. Albert Zeiler, Rocket Blaster!
Grady's Space Chronicles
Dr. Albert Zeiler, Rocket Blaster! 1913-1975
During the Mercury and Apollo Programs, the need to transport rockets to the launch location and getting them launched was mind-boggling. The Kennedy Space Center(KSC) at Merritt Island, Florida, was the launch facility. The Marshall Space Flight Center(MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, was building or buying, shipping rocket components to KSC and using their services to launch them . MSFC provided the services to KSC for support and instructions using a single point of contact between them. The MSFC Launch Coordinator was myself, Grady Woodard, of the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory and the KSC Launch Coordinator was Engineer Dr. Albert Zeiler of the Director’s Office.
Dr. Albert Zeiler, was a German Mechanical Engineer and a member of the Rocket Team from Germany. He was the launch pad engineer of Test Stand Seven at the secret rocket base Peenemunde on the Baltic Sea. On October 3, 1942, the first V-2 rocket was successively launch from Zeiler’s test stand, many more successes were to follow and Zeiler became known as the most successful launch engineer of this team. He placed a rock at the launch site and proclaimed that exact spot, is where mankind launched his first rocket into space. The rock is still in place today for Historians.
Later, Albert Zeiler was assigned to Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the first Army launch pad engineer. He was to launch the first Redstone rocket # 1 on August 20, 1953. He would determined if the rocket’s flame was the right color and to decide to cutoff the engine or release the rocket into space flight.
It was a close call, but he chanced it’s release and the flight was successful for 76 seconds. I worked with Dr. Zeiler from 1961 to 1968, as I was MSFC’s Cape Launch Coordinator and he was the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad Engineer and their Launch Coordinator.
On June 1, 2002, I called an old phone number I had for Dr. Zeiler’s house from my call directory, which was 34 years old. I wanted to see what had happened to him. He had lived on Merritt Island since he first moved to the Cape. The phone was answered by a weak frail lady’s voice, it was Mrs. Albert Zeiler. I told her who I was and had worked with Dr. Zeiler for eight years as we coordinated the rocket launches for Army and NASA. She had remembered me from all those times that I had called him after hours at his home.
She told me to call her AnneLiesa, we talked for awhile. I told her that I had learned a lot from Dr. Zeiler. Dr. Zeiler and myself had been through some tough calls on some launches, but he always made the right calls. I was thinking of the launch of Saturn SA-8 on May 25, 1965, with the Pegasus B payload.
The Saturn Booster Stage was fitted with four pairs of Genie Retrorockets, each having 8,000 lbs of thrust, at the top so the booster could be slowed after separation and not bump the Second Stage. The Genie was used by the Air Force in railroad sled test and was fitted into tubes (Buckets) on the sled.
I had procured a new shipment of Genie Retrorockets and the body was supposed to have seamless welds. Our inspector went to the source to inspect them at the plant. After installing the booster stage retrorockets, Dr. Zeiler found the new shipment body welds had not been removed and some new ones would not fit their mounting buckets. He removed a mount bucket and sent it to a local machine shop for enlarging. The alignment could have been damaged, this would kick the rocket off coarse and Zeiler knew it!
Zeiler was not to do any work on any parts without approval. He found a bucket mount at KSC and called me to certify it as he was installing it. I looked very hard and at the twenty minute pick-up of the countdown prior to launch, I located the mount, it was made of hardwood for a display - it was a dummy mount! I called him and begged him to stop the launch. But Dr. Zeiler sat it out with me on the phone, to see if the second stage would be on it’s space platform at eight degrees tilt for ignition into space. All stations around the world were standing by waiting for the lift-off. Mission Control confirmed that the second stage was separated, ignited and was on target into space.
Mrs. Zeiler said her husband had died on October 16, 1975, just ten months, after he had retired that January. She told me about having two sons, one was born at Peenemunde and the other at Ft. Bliss, Texas. She related the hard times the wives had in following the rocket team’s work from country to country. Her family was living on base when the RAF bombers hit Peenemunde at midnight on August 17, 1943, with incendiary bombs. Over 600 were killed. It was a nightmare she said.
I apologized to her for taking so much of her husband’s time, but we were assigned to prepare the launch of rockets and review the results. The long hours away from home and family had taken a toll on family life. She said that the wives were use to it and their husbands persisted in their space careers. She was very proud of her husband and his contribution to space. She seemed to be in better sprints after we talked about her husband’s team members from Germany, those who came to Florida and those in Huntsville.
I updated her on some of the Team’s children and what had become of them. I told her to take care of herself and wished her the best. She never gave me a straight answer on how old she was. She may have said her age was eighty-eight. She apologized for her English and I apologized for mine too! I enjoyed her laughter. Mrs. Zeiler thanked me for calling. I will never forget Albert and AnneLiesa Zeiler. This Nation owes them the most respect for their contribution to space. The German Rocket Team also worked at the underground Hertz Mountain V-2 Rocket Factory in Germany. The duel tunnels with cross connecting utility tunnels were used for shops and storage. Rocket testing also was connected underground.
The German rocket engineers had two choices, either join the General Dornberger Peenemunde Army Ordnance Rocket Command or go to the Eastern Russian front as an Army rifleman.
Albert Zeiler was born on May 9, 1913. He did his rocket work in Germany before his capture and transfer to Britain and, later, to the United States. He was at first doubtful and almost overlooked for the U.S. Team.
When Zeiler taken prisoner, he was training the German troops at the test stands, he was a key associate of Dr. Kurt Debus and Dr. Hans Gruene. By the time Dr. Zeiler was brought in by the British troops to be questioned, Dr. Debus had already arrived. Dr. Gruene, was still up north in the Harz Mountains, he would be captured by the British and detained at Witzenhausen. There at Garmisch–Partenkirchen, Debus was interrogated on May 16, 1945. Zeiler helped with the field test and the procedures developed at Peenemunde in Poland.
From Garmisch–Partenkirchen Debus, Zeiler and Hans Fichtner were transferred to a British Interrogation Camp at Schloss Krauntzburg in Taunus, Germany, just outside Debus’ hometown of Frankfurt.
The place was known as Camp Dustbin. General Dornberger arrived later and asked Zeiler what he was doing there. Zeiler informed Dornberger that he had been told that he was going to the U.S., “But I guess they forgot us!” Dornberger told the skeptical Zeiler that he would get him out.
Two weeks later Zeiler was in Cuxhaven with the others, including Dr. Debus, who was leader of one of two camps of Germans. Debus led the “Interrogation Camp,” Camp C, at Altenwalde. Separate from Camp C, the British also established a Working Camp that was ordered to assemble eight missiles and fire five of them. It was into this camp that Zeiler would go.
Dr. Debus became both a technical and diplomatic liaison between the two camps and between the detained Germans and the victorious Allies. Debus recalled a spat over a lost logbook, for instance, that apparently was smoothed over.
The custody of the German rocket team was transferred to the U.S. and they were stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas with V-2 rocket testing done at White Sands, New Mexico. In 1950, the team was moved to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama
The first launch at Cape Canaveral of the experimental Redstone missile occurred on August 20, 1953. Before the close of the Redstone development program, the von Braun-Debus team had created the infrastructure to launch 36 more Army Redstones by 1958. The initial Redstone launch team, according to Debus, consisted of 30 people. Debus’ Missile Firing Lab now had three sections, a Mechanical Section headed by Zeiler; Guidance, Control & Networks Section headed by Gruene;
A young Lieutenant Meisenheimer approached Dr. Debus and said that he would stake his reputation on a forecast that the wind shear would drop to tolerable levels for launch. Debus persuaded General Medaris to toxic gases occurring at ignition that would put them at risk. Zeiler, Dr. Hans Gruene, Karl Sendler, and General Medaris were at Debus’ side and the count proceeded down to ignition. Test Conductor Bob Moser called out, “We have a jet vane deflection, shall I hold?” Debus, committed to tanking. That evening Mr. Zeiler, in charge of fueling, returned to the blockhouse at T minus 20 minutes, at which time the blockhouse doors were sealed from the toxic gases occurring at ignition.
Debus, evaluating the data and weighing the probability of an instrumentation failure versus a real flight control system failure, quickly waved his hand to continue. At 10:58 p.m., Eastern Time, it roared off into history placing the free world in space for the first time.
By the time President Kennedy visited Debus’ Launch Operations organization on November 16, 1963, the Saturn V Launch Complex 39 architecture was just beginning to take shape. After a briefing by George Mueller, the NASA Headquarters Apollo Program Manager, in the Complex 37 blockhouse, Dr. von Braun briefed the President on the Saturn I, SA-5 vehicle presently on Pad-B.
This vehicle would carry for the first time a live second stage and would be a crucial launch to put the U.S. ahead of the Soviets in booster capability - of great concern to the President.
Debus was able to show the President the beginnings of the Industrial Area that would become the headquarters for the Launch Operations Center and would, tragically, bear his name all too soon—Kennedy was slain on November 22, 1963, within a week of the Cape Canaveral visit.
The first Saturn 5 was launched on November 9, 1967.
“Grady 17:23, 27 July 2012 (UTC)“