“We couldn’t have been out there at a better time.”

The audience gathered at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Discovery Theater experienced living history June 13 as five Apollo engineers participated in the center’s Pass the Torch series. “Engineers of the Apollo Era” featured reminisces from Mickey Allen, representing fabrication; Ron Bledsoe, propulsion; Clyde Nevins, structures; Ron Tepool, testing and Brooks Moore, instrument unit.

The auditorium was full as each engineer gave a slideshow presentation of the technical aspects of building the Saturn V rocket. They shared anecdotes and stories about their boss, Wernher von Braun, and paid tribute to their co-workers, some of whom were in the audience.

“We had more fun – we all looked forward to coming to work – and we worked a lot of hours. Some of us got paid overtime and some of us didn’t. But we didn’t care, we just had a lot of fun doing what we were doing, and we knew we were going to the moon,” said Allen, who also moderated the panel.

The afternoon was a firsthand account of the race to space with Russia from those who lived it. There were long hours working on a program shrouded in secrecy. The pressure was on to build the fastest rocket in history – an order that came from the very top. Allen said that President John F. Kennedy’s directive to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade “turned us on – really turned us on.”

Some were new to NASA while others came with von Braun from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Allen said at one point, nearly 7,000 people worked at Marshall Space Flight Center itself in its infancy. The center looked much different at that time from the sleek buildings at the corner of Rideout and Martin. Allen noted that roads had to be built on Redstone Arsenal just to accommodate the sheer size of the vehicle.

Although now in their 70s and 80s, their recollections were as sharp as if Apollo 11 launched in 2019, not 1969.

“We feel like we did a – pardon my French – a damn good job doing what we did,” Allen said. “And these guys did it.”

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