HUNTSVILLE, Ala. You can blame the Soviets. After successful launches by their space program in the late 1950s, America got worried. Wernher Von Braun was called to testify before Congress.
"Consider the control of space around the earth very much like the great maritime powers thought of control of the seas in the 16th through the 18th centuries, and they say if we want to control this planet, we have to control the space around it," said Von Braun when he was still at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.
He didn't stay there. Like more than 4,000 other ABMA workers he moved to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center when it was created in 1960. Along with the workers went land and buildings to make up the fledgling center. Marshall would be the place where the Saturn V moon rocket was designed and developed. It's no stretch to say the work at Marshall helped win the Cold War.
"That particular event gave us a technological edge, where we ended up with boots on the ground," says Todd May, the new Deputy Director at Marshall, and the former Program Manager for SLS.
May walks the same halls at building 4200 that Von Braun and other Marshall leaders have walked over the years. He understands Marshall is continuing a legacy with the management of the Space Launch System program. "We took the pieces from the space shuttle. We took the best of Aries. We took what we learned from Apollo, and we've now created a rocket in less than four years that the design is essentially complete, and we are ready to build it," said May.
SLS will make deep space missions possible in the future, and the first flight is still a few years away. It is, however, getting closer. "Next week we'll actually go to headquarters and bring out our critical design review results, and I feel that the agency is also going to feel good about where we are," says May.
From the Saturn V through the Space Shuttle, NASA has had lots of reasons to feel good about the work at Marshall, and that shouldn't change.
"That responsibility to push innovation is still with us today, and the work we do here as we push even deeper into our space, the technologies and innovations that fall out of that, help keep this country at the cutting edge," says Todd May.
Staying at the technological cutting edge is another way that people in north Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal's Marshall Space Flight Center, help keep America strong.