In April 1950 the U.S Army established its team of rocket specialists, headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, as the Ordnance Guided Missile Center at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. This center was the origin of what eventually became the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). On 1 February 1956 the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) was formed at Redstone Arsenal ABMA. This was a merger and expansion of existing agencies there; its team of scientists and engineers formed the nucleus of the Development Operations Division.
Early in 1960 President Eisenhower submitted a request to Congress for the transfer of ABMA's space missions to NASA, including certain facilities and personnel, chiefly the Development Operations Division. The transfer became effective 14 March 1960 and NASA set up its "Huntsville Facility" in preparation for formal establishment of the field center later that year. The next day, 15 March, President Eisenhower proclaimed the NASA facility would be called George C. Marshall Space Flight Center." The name honored George C. Marshall, General of the Army, who was Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of State 1948-1949, and author of the Marshall Plan. General Marshall was the only professional soldier to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him in 1954.
MSFC officially began operation with the formal mass transfer of personnel and facilities from ABMA 1 July 1960. The Center's primary mission responsibility was development of the Saturn family of launch vehicles, used in the Apollo manned lunar-landing program, in the Skylab experimental space station program, and in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. MSFC also held responsibility for development of the Skylab Orbital Workshop and Apollo Telescope Mount, as well as integration of the Skylab cluster of components. It was responsible for three major elements of the Space Shuttle: the solid-fueled rocket booster, the Space Shuttle main engine, and the external tank.
In 1961, Marshall's Mercury-Redstone vehicle boosted America's first astronaut, Alan B. Shepard, on a suborbital flight. Still standing on the site is the Redstone Test Stand, a facility used during the 1950s in the early development of the Redstone propulsion system. In 1966 and 1967, the Saturn V Dynamic Test Stand was used for ground vibration testing of the Saturn V launch vehicle and the Apollo spacecraft. Completion of this program was the final step prior to the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. In 1972-73 the stand was used for tests involving the Skylab Space Station; and in 1978-79 for ground vibration testing of the complete Space Shuttle vehicle.
Other unique facilities include the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator, which was first developed in the Apollo era. The buoyancy simulator provided a simulated weightless environment needed to perform engineering tests in preparation for space missions. The extra vehicle activity for the Skylab rescue and Apollo Telescope Mount film retrieved was developed in the facility. The Propulsion and Structural Test Facility was developed in support of Jupiter missile development and was modified and used for testing during the first clustered engine stage in the American space program- the S-IB stage of the Saturn I launch vehicle period.
During the 1960s, Marshall tested the F- 1 engine, the largest liquid Rocket engine ever developed. The F-1 generated 1.5 million pounds of thrust. Five F-1s were clustered in the S-IC test stand at Marshall. Some called Marshall the "land of the Earth shakers" as the five engines were test fired for the first stage, the S-IC stage, of the Saturn V moon rocket.
Today, Marshall manages Space Shuttle propulsion elements and science aboard the International Space Station, as well as other research. Marshall focuses on the development of transportation and propulsion systems, large complex systems, space infrastructure, applied materials and manufacturing processes, and scientific spacecraft research and instruments.
Additional resources about Marshall Space Flight Center:
Dunar, Andrew J. and Waring, Stephen P. Power to Explore: A History of Marshall Space Flight Center, 1960-1990. NASA SP-4313, 1999.
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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