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Happy 60th Birthday to Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center

| September 8, 2020 @ 3:15 pm

The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama was dedicated pm September 8, 1960 by  President Eisenhower and the center’s first director Dr. Wernher von Braun. With it 4,670 Army civil service employees and 1,840 acres of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal  were transferred to NASA.   

One of NASA’s largest centers, it was named for General George Marshall US Army Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of State, author of the Marshall Plan for European recovery and winner of the Nobel Peace Price in 1953.

The rocket garden at the Marshall Space Flight Center

During the 1960s, Marshall delivered the Mercury-Redstone rocket that carried Alan Shephard, the first American in space.  The Saturn I, IB and ultimately the Saturn V were all developed at Marshall.

The Marshall Center has been involved in the development of every one of NASA’s major propulsion system.  That continues today with research into solar sails and nuclear propulsion.

That history becomes really evident to me during my last visit to the center. Directions always seemed to include, look for the building with the massive Saturn V F-1 engine out front, no not the one, the other building with a F-1 out front.

In the 70s , the Lunar Roving Vehicle used on the final 3 Apollo missions was developed there. NASA’s first space station, SkyLab, was developed at Marshall as well and by the end of the decade, the Space Shuttle underwent vibration testing at Marshall’s Dynamic Test Stand.

During the 80s, the external fuel tank, solid rocket boosters and space shuttle main engines were developed there. Gravitational science from SpaceLab, a module fitted in the shuttle cargo bay was applied to another Marshall project, the Hubble Space Telescope in the 80s as well as the Chandra and Gamma Ray Space Telescopes in the 90s.

The 2000s began two decades of the International Space Station.  You’ve probably seen seen images of ISS mission control in Houston,  Actually Johnson Space Center is responsible for the vehicle, it’s Marshall’s International Space Station Payload Operations Center on the corner of Martin and Dodd Roads that works most closely with astronauts to complete science experiments and maintenance aboard.

Controllers at work at the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Payload Operations Center

When I was last there, I walked into that Huntsville version of missions control, which also can serve as a backup to Houston’s mission control when weather demands it, engineers were guiding an astronaut through troubleshooting, they were all focused on images on the big screens showing that astronaut diving head first into an open equipment rack. Next door a mockup of one of the modules is available as a reference.

In the 2010s science operations continued to be directed from the Payload Operations Center and work began on the Space Launch System with delivering humans back to the Moon and onto Mars as the goal. It leverages those solid rocket motors and main engines from the shuttle days as well as design elements from those external fuel tanks.

Marshall is also home to Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) a joint NOAA/NASA project which helps bring experimental satellite observations to the operational weather community to improve short-term weather forecasts.

Category: ALL POSTS, Spacey Stuff

About the Author ()

Tony Rice is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and the voice and brains behinds the weekly Astronomy Report on the WeatherBrains podcast. He grew up in Southern California where he watched the Space Shuttles being build and landed nearby and was hooked. Tony brings weather and space together to communicate the excitement of space exploration and promote a greater appreciation for Earth sciences.

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