NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - It is still the most powerful rocket ever built -- the Saturn V 1C Booster – built in the 1960s at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
Now, 50 years after Apollo 11 brought three astronauts blasting toward man’s first steps on the moon, Harold Bencaz still remembers the excitement leading up to the mission.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm, you know? We had had almost 12,000 employees out there, and we was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to reach the goals that President Kennedy had suggested,” Bencaz, a now retired NASA worker, remembered. “There was no resource problem, because money was plentiful back in those days.”
Bencaz went to work at Michoud in 1963 as a NASA Project Manager, helping with construction of a five-engine rocket with a 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
“Someone used the analogy that if you had lined up a mile-long of Volkswagens, the Saturn V had enough thrust there to put them in the orbit,” Bencaz said.
Workers at Michoud built 15 of the giant rockets. They were barged to Mississippi and test fired, returned to Michoud to be fined-tuned. Then, they were barged to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch.
The last to be built at Michoud was never fired after federal budget cuts cancelled the last few moon missions.
Mark Graves is the historian at NASA’s Infinity Science Center in Mississippi, where the rocket still sits today.
“Everybody that’s ever been to the moon took off in one of these,” Graves said.
Bencaz said he’ll never forget the feeling of the rockets kicking on when the Saturn made lift-off.
“When the Saturn took off, it got up real, real slow. You could feel it from miles away,” he said. “That was probably the most exciting thing ever, because it was. Everyone was so optimistic, and everyone was just going full steam ahead.”
Now, this huge piece of history is being repainted, still representing the first stage of a historic first step.
NASA historian Brian Odom said while science has only progressed since those first rockets launched, these ones are no less inspiring, decades later and facing new era of space exploration.
“We celebrate it today as a time when humanity did something great,” Odom said. “And now that we’re going to go back to the moon in 2024, with the space-launch system that we’re developing here, and is being developed and manufactured at Michoud Assembly Factory, that’s going to inspire even more people.
Already, a new space launch system that will return Americans to the moon is being built at Michoud, a place with decades of experience in sending astronauts into orbit and beyond.
Not only did Harold Bencaz work for NASA at Michoud through the Saturn V rocket program, he was also there as more than 130 of the space shuttle external fuel tanks were constructed at the New Orleans Facility.