AEDC played a major role in man’s first landing on the moon July 20, 1969. From the first wind tunnel tests of a Saturn rocket model run in 1960 to more than 1,700 firings of the actual motors that made up the giant Saturn V launch vehicle in rocket test cells at simulated near-space conditions – AEDC was involved.
Just a little over nine years before Neil Armstrong’s famous, “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” comments, the first aerodynamic test had been run on a scale model of a proposed Saturn launch configuration on June 6, 1960.
From 1960 to 1968, a total of 3,300 wind tunnel test hours – more than 35 percent of all the NASA Apollo program wind tunnel work – was completed at AEDC. In all, 25 of AEDC’s 41 test facilities were involved in 55,000 hours of test work directly supporting the Apollo program.
In addition to determining flight characteristics of the launch configuration, tests conducted at AEDC provided data that helped NASA to program reentry parameters for the Apollo Command Module so that it would land within a mile or so of the recovery aircraft carrier. Reliability was proven for the launch abort/escape systems (which never had to be used), altitude start and operation of the Saturn IVB third stage, and the Service Propulsion System, which powered the Apollo Spacecraft.
“The success of any rocket engine development program depends strongly upon the test organizations,” wrote NASA’S Manned Spacecraft Center director, Robert R. Gilruth, in a 1966 letter to then-commander Brig. Gen. Lee V. Gossick. “The quality of Arnold Engineering Development Center personnel assigned to the Agena [docking target] and the Apollo programs has been a significant factor in the successful and rapid completion of all phases of the testing undertaken to date.”
Read more about AEDC’s instrumental contributions to the space program online at www.arnold.af.mil. The base website also includes a link to the April 1966 edition of the development complex’s High Mach magazine, detailing the development center’s early involvement in the Apollo program.