Rocketry time capsule opened by builder 55 years later to celebrate milestone for UAH Propulsion Research Center

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - UAH’s Propulsion Research Center is preparing for its 25th anniversary next year, and the experimental roots of its faculty run even deeper. In 1956, 16-year-old Jimmy Blackmon did a very unusual thing for that time. He built a rocket from scratch in the basement of his home in Charlotte, N.C., predating even the well-known Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys.


The resulting news coverage got him on the radar screen of the nation’s number 1 rocket man, Dr. Wernher von Braun. Blackmon and his father, Bert Blackmon, spent three days in Huntsville with von Braun, General Toftoy, Army engineers and other officials as the rocketry pioneer mentored the teen.

Now a UAH PRC research professor for 15 years, Dr. Jim Blackmon still has that original rocket he built as a teenager which, because a Federal Aviation Administration ruling and the admonitions of Dr. von Braun, he never flew – although a second iteration did successfully launch and fly. His design that used the nucleic cooling of ice keep engine temperatures down was never tested. But test firing a replica of that engine is something Dr. Blackmon still would like to see happen today.

That may take some time, but Wednesday Blackmon's prototype emerged again from a wooden crate. With a couple pries from a hammer, Blackmon took UAH Propulsion Research Center students back to a time when everything was black and white and the space program was approaching an apex; it's a rocket that started an entire career for Blackmon.

"Army folks were a little puzzled as to how I made this ogive nose cone," Blackmon remembered. "It turns out back then you could buy these as lampshades for $5," he laughed. Blackmon is now inspiring the next generation of boundless imagination.
"Anything we do that encourages that first interest, that kind of feeds that first spark, I think is great. It opens up all kinds of doors to all kinds of interests."