Hans A. von Spakovsky
We lived 15 miles from the engine test stands out on the space flight center. I can still remember the windows in our house rattling when they tested the huge rocket engines they were building at Marshall.
I Literally Lived 15 Miles from the Apollo Program. It Was Glorious.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing, I am not sure that today’s generation quite understands just how exciting this was in 1969. Apollo 11 came before “Star Wars” and a raft of science fiction movies that have since made space travel seem almost mundane.
I was in elementary school when Neil Armstrong climbed out of the Apollo 11 lander and stepped onto the moon. I remember watching it live on the local television station (back when there were no cable or satellite channels) like it was yesterday. I would also be willing to bet that was the case for just about everyone else I grew up with.
Why? Because I lived in Huntsville, Alabama, known as Rocket City, USA—the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, where the engineers and scientists who worked for NASA were intimately involved in the Apollo program.
In the 1950s, Alabama Sen. John Sparkman, one of the most powerful members of the Senate, helped transform part of Redstone Arsenal, an Army base, into the Marshall Space Flight Center. He was the key to bringing Wernher von Braun and his coterie of German scientists to Huntsville, where they started building our space program.
Unlike most kids, whose neighborhoods are populated by parents who work in every kind of profession, the parents of everyone I knew worked as a scientist or an engineer, either for NASA or for the Army Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal.
I met von Braun when I was 10 years old because my parents were part of the social network of scientists and engineers that were designing, building, and testing rockets at Marshall. I attended a high school named for Gus Grissom, one of the three astronauts who tragically died in 1967 during a test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral.