Skilled to Work: Grandson follows in his grandfather's footsteps into the space industry

Frank Rieder, who passed away in 2006 at age 108, worked on the F-1 engine that helped power the Saturn V rocket.

Posted: Jul 11, 2019 3:26 PM
Updated: Jul 12, 2019 4:17 AM

Many people were inspired into the aerospace industry after watching one of the manned missions into space. For Frank Rieder, a Hungarian immigrant, it was something much simpler.

“The first thing he ever saw fly was a hot air balloon in Austria when he was a little kid,” said Bret Rieder, Frank’s grandson.

Frank Rieder (pictured at 22-years-old) traveled to California where he started working for Rocketdyne in 1958. Frank Rieder (pictured at 22-years-old) traveled to California where he started working for Rocketdyne in 1958.

F-1 rocket engines, each developing more than 1.5 million pounds of thrust, are installed in the first stage of the Saturn V vehicle. The first stage was developed and assembled by The Boeing Company at NASA’s Michoud operations in New Orleans.

“That’s what sparked his interest into flight. So he worked on airplanes and then eventually rockets.”

Bret said his grandfather left Mor, Hungary, without knowing any English and managed to pick up a fair amount before arriving at Ellis Island.

Eventually, he made his way out west to California and began working for Rocketdyne.

“See, the F1 was developed in the late 50s and that’s why they hired him because he was a well-known machinist. So 1958 he went there [and] worked on the F-1,” said Rieder.

Frank Rieder spent years working on the F-1. He left a lasting legacy on Rocketdyne that was so indelible, that when Bret arrived decades later, a Rocketdyne employee started gushing over Frank.

“And he [a Rocketdyne employee] went on to tell me great stories about what a great machinist he was and how respected he was,” said Rieder.

“Just to walk in and hear that about him made me very proud.”

For his contribution to the Apollo program, Frank received a metal plaque of appreciation bearing the signatures of the men who first stepped on the Moon.

“At the time, in the late 50s and early 60s, I think his profession, a machinist, it was viewed upon a lot differently than it is today. It was absolutely the top skill,” said Rieder.

Inspired by his grandfather, Bret joined Rocketdyne in the 1980s as a tool maker. He moved up in the ranks to tool manager before moving to United Launch Alliance (ULA) in the mid-1990s where he currently works as the tool engineering lead.

“When I joined, it was space shuttle days, so we had manned spaceflight and I enjoyed that. It's so fulfilling to send people to space. You're proud of every launch and you feel every tragedy,” said Rieder.

He recalls one of the saddest moments of his career was watching the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. He was part of the fault analysis team tasked with determining what went wrong.

“We stopped manned space flight for a while. And it recovered. So it was nice that I was part of that, although every day was sad,” said Rieder.

Today, Rieder works with and helps to teach the younger generation of workers at ULA as he prepares to retire in 2020, which will mark year 40 for him in the industry.

He said through all of that time, he continued to be inspired by his grandfather who passed away in 2006 at 108-years-old.

“He was able to communicate with anyone and was very instrumental in the development of the F-1 rocket that went on the Saturn that ultimately put Apollo on the Moon,” said Rieder.

“I'm very proud of the man he was and the work he did. And I'll never forget him.”

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