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How a Collapse at Wheeler Dam Almost Delayed the Apollo 11 Launch

It was a site to behold back in 1961. NASA’s barge, nicknamed Palaemon, was on the Tennessee River carrying the first flight stage of a Saturn I rocket from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Posted: Mar 25, 2019 3:31 PM
Updated: Mar 29, 2019 2:12 PM

It was a site to behold back in 1961. NASA’s barge, nicknamed Palaemon, was on the Tennessee River carrying the first flight stage of a Saturn I rocket from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

The journey would take 2,000 miles from Huntsville to Cape Canaveral where it would be assembled and eventually launched. Just 40 miles into the trip, as the crew reached Wheeler Dam, it had a major obstacle to overcome, author William Bryan reports: The dam’s lock had collapsed and the passageway was closed.

The Tennessee Valley Authority had to build new roads around the dams to connect sections of the river to allow for passage. Still, NASA had to bring in a second barge on the other side fo the dam. NASA crews had to unload the hardware from one barge upstream near Town Creek and use the new roads to transport it to the barge on the other side of the dam.

From there on, it was relatively smooth sailing as the 10 day cruise used the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers before crossing into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast.

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