Apollo-era Saturn rocket destroyed under NASA’s watch

Human spaceflight has a relatively short history over the past ~60 years, but the Saturn rocket has a major position towards the start of it. Now, a major piece of that history has been destroyed because nobody wanted to pay the $250,000 to move the booster and NASA didn’t bother to keep it preserved.

The Saturn rocket is the one that carried humans to the Moon under the Apollo program. No rocket has done that since, and it is only now, with SLS, that we will return under the Artemis program.

The Saturn rocket supported human spaceflight through the 1960s and 70s. From the initial testing of hardware on the Saturn I to the validation of Lunar systems on Saturn IB, then the crewed missions to the Moon on Saturn V and the return of the Saturn IB for the flight of crews to Skylab.

There is no denying the importance of the Saturn rocket in the history of spaceflight.

That is why so many people were outraged when they learned that the first stage of a Saturn I rocket was being destroyed.

No, this isn’t talking about the wear and tear, or natural decay of objects as they age out in the elements. The stage, already showing major signs of wear from nature, was actively torn apart at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

When Ashlee Bracewell, a rocket test engineer, posted photos of the destruction, space fans were not pleased, some referring to the act as a “travesty,” while others just questioned why NASA could let it happen.

Others noted the particular significance of this booster, saying that it is the first stage of a Saturn rocket to ever be fired, the SA-T test article.

NASA’s own site recognized the importance of this booster as recently as last October.

Left: Ground crews lift the Saturn C-I SA-T test stage onto a static stand at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, in February 1960. Middle: A test firing of the Saturn SA-T test stage at the Redstone Arsenal in June 1960. Right: At the formal dedication of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Saturn C-I rocket designer Wernher von Braun, left, describes a model of his rocket to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Credits: NASA

The stage laid horizontally by the test stand it was once fired on at Marshall spaceflight center until on April 4, 2022, when it was demolished.

The reason for this destruction, as for so many things, is likely money.

Back in 2019, the agency attempted to give away the Apollo-era hardware. As a CNET article at the time noted:

So this is basically an unused, genuine space rocket being given away to interested schools, universities, museum or libraries for free. All any interested organization has to do is pay for shipping, which happens to cost a quarter million dollars in this case. 

Presumably having found no interested bidders, the hardware was demolished. This isn’t the only piece of spaceflight history that has survived the past 60 years that is set for destruction either, as the original poster noted the test stand the rocket sat on is also set for demolition.

Featured image credit: NASA, Ashlee Bracewell via Twitter

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