The Redstone Test Stand helped Huntsville make history

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Seventy-five years is a long time.  In the case of Redstone Arsenal it's not really the years, but rather the important things that have happened on the base in those three-quarters of a century.

Redstone Test Site

As part of WHNT News 19's celebration of Redstone's 75th anniversary, we look back on the namesake missile.

The Redstone test stand is on one of the quieter roads at Redstone Arsenal.  It really doesn't look like much, but it's one of the most important parts of Arsenal history.

Steve Johnson & Mike Baker

Steve Johnson interviews Mike Baker, AMC Historian

"What was the first big thing?" we asked Mike Baker, Army Materiel Command Historian.  "That would be the Redstone," he replied.

Baker isn't discounting Redstone's World War II record as a chemical munitions facility.  He's talking about the first major project led by Dr. Wernher Von Braun and the German rocket team.

They came to Redstone after working in New Mexico with German V2 rockets.  Their job in Alabama was to build America's ballistic missile program.

German Rocket Team

"Well, the Redstone was the first nuclear -- we carried nuclear capability that we worked on for the troops, and we deployed that in Europe," said Alex McCool.

McCool worked on the Redstone in the mid 1950s.  This brings us back to the test stand, a National Historic Landmark.

"It's a jewel. It's a poor man's test stand," McCool said.

"They took three old rail cars and made those the bunker," said Baker, the AMC Historian.  "They took old railroad lines and helped build the test stand itself."

Workers at Redstone did all that in 1953.  From there, it was working to get the missile ready for its Army job, which wasn't the only job.

A modified Redstone answered the Russian Sputnik, taking America's first satellite, Explorer, to space.

Alex McCool

Alex McCool

"We could have been first, before Sputnik. We were told to sit tight. The Navy is going to be the one to put up the first satellite," said McCool.  "Vanguard tried two or three times... pssst... kaput, so they said okay... go, and we did."

After Explorer, another modified Redstone took Alan Shepard, the first American, to space.  That's what the Redstone test stand made possible.

It's a historic landmark that needs to be preserved.

Joe Fitzgerald, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army

Joe Fitzgerald, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army

"It's what we can learn from it, and what our current generation can learn from it, and what we're going through now in terms of SLS, and in terms of our national missile programs and what we can learn from our history," said Joe Fitzgerald, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army.

Read and watch more of our reports marking Redstone Arsenal's 75th Anniversary.