NASA Restores Saturn V Rocket

The famous Saturn V rocket that stood outside the Johnson Space Center for two decades is restored and housed in a new preservation facility on the campus. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The Saturn V rocket is the aircraft that won the space race for the U.S. when the America and Russia were competing to see who could be the first to land a man on the moon. The rocket which sat at the entrance of Johnson Space Center is one of only three complete Saturn V rockets in existence. They belong to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Allan Needell is the curator.

"Among the three surviving rockets, only one and that's this one here, consists completely of stages and componants that were actually intended to fly. Accordingly, in our view it represents or symbolizes the enormous Apollo achievement perhaps better than any other object in the national collection. Well time gradually took its toll. For more than 20 years, the JSC Saturn V was exposed to the sun and the rain and the high-ozone environment of the Houston area and, to understate the matter significantly, it didn't fare very well."

So the Smithsonian and NASA began looking into ways to restore the rocket and house it in a climate controlled facility. That was no small task. The Saturn V is about as long as the distance from home plate to the center field fence at Minute Maid Park. In 1999, the Smithsonian applied for a grant to preserve the rocket, and with matching funds from a number of sources, eight years later the restoration is complete. A number of former astronauts attended the dedication at JSC, including Walt Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7, the first manned mission of the Apollo program.

"Saturn rockets placed 45 astronauts safely into orbit. Well in ten short years the space race was over, America had won and the race was called off . And we can now celebrate Apollo for what it was, a political battle in the Cold War. The Saturn V made that victory possible."

The Saturn V is still the most powerful rocket ever built. NASA is using it as a model for the Constellation program, which includes plan for manned missions back to the moon and further manned space exploration. Former Astronaut Dr. Joseph Kerwin closed the dedication ceremony with words of nostalgia and gratitude.

"So to this beautiful, rugged, reliable, over-achieving Saturn V machine I say thank you. You're a challenge to do better than in the future."

The restored Saturn V will remain on exhibit at JSC. NASA representatives will be on hand tomorrow to answer questions about the restoration of the rocket as well as NASA's Constellation program to return humans to the moon. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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