Marshall Space Flight Center & Shuttle program a huge part of Redstone Arsenal’s history

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Working to win World War II and making the missile that ended the Cold War.  That's enough history for most any place.  At Redstone Arsenal, you can add putting men on the moon, and designing the most complex machine ever built.

The old timers will tell you, a Saturn V launch was something to see.  The huge rocket would slowly head to space, as it took Apollo astronauts to the moon.

"And when you think about the number of EVA's [extravehicular activity] and the number of assemblies we did with the shuttle to build the station, it far surpasses what we did with the Apollo program," said Mike Rudolphi, a Marshall Space Flight Center veteran.

Rudolphi is talking about the Space Shuttle, designed and developed at MSFC.  It wasn't like the Saturn V.  It needed to fly cheaper.

"So we spent two years, in fact I worked on it in the early days of Space Shuttle... looking at the recoverable orbiter and looking at some other hardware that could be recovered," said Alex McCool, another NASA veteran.  "And that's when we came up with the concept of the configuration. We recover everything on the Shuttle except the big tank."

Shuttle launch (NASA.gov)

Shuttle launch (NASA.gov)

For 30 years the shuttles headed to space.  It was a workhorse of a spacecraft.

"What we did with the Apollo program is get big and do big things," said Rudolphi. "What we did in the Shuttle program, is we kind of did a smaller vehicle and did bigger things."

These big things include construction of the International Space Station -- which is occupied right now.

However, there were tragedies. Challenger exploded after liftoff, and Columbia disintegrated during re-entry.  Astronauts died and the nation mourned.

"That still burdens me and bothers me, I have a lot of times... I wake up at night thinking about those things and that really bothers me," said McCool.

Still, the shuttle kept flying.  From 1981 to 2011, there were 135 missions, and Marshall Space Flight Center was involved with each one of them.

Marshall veterans want you to know something.  "How it's the highest performing piece of mechanical systems on the planet. The space shuttle main engine," said McCool.

A main engine that will be part of America's next manned space craft, the SLS.  By the way, it's managed at Marshall.

Marshall began with some 4,600 people who moved over from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA in 1960.   It's now the center of excellence for propulsion for both America, and as one NASA guy says... probably for the world.