WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Happy 60th birthday to the Marshall Spaceflight Center

Posted September 8, 2020 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2020 6:21 p.m. EDT

60 years ago today, the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., was dedicated in a ceremony by President Eisenhower and the center’s first director Dr. Wernher von Braun. The center was named for General George Marshall, who served as U.S. Army chief of staff during World War II, secretary of state, author of the Marshall Plan for European recovery and winner of the Nobel Peace Price in 1953.

The Marshall Center has been involved in the development of every one of NASA’s major propulsion system. That continues today with research into solar sails and nuclear propulsion.  MSFC developed missions and technologies include:

1960s

  • Mercury-Redstone rocket that carried Alan Shephard, the first American in space.
  • Saturn I, Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets
  • J-2 and F-1 engines propelling those rockets
  • Project Highwater, which both tested a Saturn I rocket and ejected the 30,000 gallons of water used as ballast in the test to also test formation of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.
  • Skylab, America's first space station
  • Apollo-Soyuz Project
  • NASA's first neutral buoyancy tank used by astronauts to simulate working in space.

Marshall Space Flight Center Building 4200

1970s

  • Development of space shuttle solid rocket boosters, main engines and external fuel tanks
  • Re-purposing Saturn V test facilities for the space shuttle program
  • Vibration testing of the Space Shuttle Enterprise
  • Laser Geodynamics Satellite (LAGEOS), a 2-foot space mirror used to measure continental drift and earthquakes

1980s

  • Spacelab, a science experiment platform aboard space shuttle missions

  • Redesign of the solid rocket motors as a part of return to flight efforts following the Challenger accident.

  • Discovery of a high temperature superconductor

  • Hubble Space Telescope

1990s

  • Compton Gamma Ray Observatory

  • Chandra X-Ray Space Telescope

2000s

  • Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall began round-the-clock operations in support of science onboard the International Space Station.
  • Gravity Probe mission tests Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity
  • J-2X engine powers upper stages of Ares rocket
  • Worlds largest stir welding machine installed at Marshall for construction of Ares and now Space Launch System components

MSFC Payload Operations Center

2010s and beyond

  • Mirror testing for James Webb Space Telescope
  • Development and manufacture, at its sister facility near New Orleans, of the Space Launch System based on the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters, main engines and external fuel tank

Marshall is also home to Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) a joint NOAA/NASA project which helps bring experimental satellite observations to the operational weather community to improve short-term weather forecasts.

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