The life of a space pioneer

Defending America
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Alex McCool died in Huntsville on July 14, he was 96-years old. He spent 50-years working at Redstone Arsenal, first for the Army and then at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Alex was one of the people who made the Saturn V happen. His labor helped put the first human on the moon. But Alex McCool started working at Redstone long before that. In the mid-50’s he worked on the Redstone Missile. “It was challenging work and very interesting, and my specific area was propulsion, rocket engines, and the various systems that go with that,” said Alex.

His statement doesn’t include that the work being done was pioneering for the U.S.. We had missiles before that, but this was the first time the Army set out to build a nuclear tipped ballistic missile. The Redstone was never fired in anger, but a modified version of this weapon carried the first American satellite to space, Explorer 1. “We could have been first, before Sputnik (the Russian satellite). We were told to sit tight, the Navy is going to be the one to put up the first satellite,” said Alex.


The Navy was unable to make that happen, and the Army took over and was successful. Alex McCool was part of that. In 1960, he was also one of the hundreds of Army workers who moved over to NASA, and Marshall Space Flight Center. He heard President Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon and he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“Getting in low earth orbit, now, don’t leave that out. 17,500 miles an hour. To go to the moon, leave Earth’s gravity, 25,000 miles an hour. Nobody in the history of the universe had ever gone that fast,” said Alex.

Thanks to work by Alex thousands of others we would go that fast, and within the decade of the promise, we would go to the moon, and a man would make that first historic step. Alex McCool wasn’t done after the Saturn program. He worked on the Space Shuttle, which would have a remarkable 30-year run. Alex was proud of that spacecraft. Here is what he said about the Shuttle’s powerful main engine. “How it’s the highest performing piece of mechanical system on the planet, the Space Shuttle main engine,” said Alex.

That engine was incredible, and in fact still is. It’s part of the soon to fly Space Launch System that will put the next humans on the moon. That will be the next part of the legacy of work done by Marshall, and the Army at Redstone Arsenal. Alex McCool has something to say about that legacy, and what it means to this nation.

“Number one militarily, technically, technologically. Looking at the future and being able to attract other young people in the nation. We’re still the greatest country on the planet, and we will be with the Lord’s help, and our own help, and the folks that follow us. We need them to continue, to keep this thing moving,” said Alex McCool.

There’s obviously more history to be written by the men and women who followed, and will follow Alex McCool. He certainly left a light to guide the way.

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