Huntsville man discovers assembly manual for Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket

Mark discovered old artifacts that gave a look into his father's work, including two detailed manuals with blueprints on the Saturn V.

Posted: Jul 21, 2019 7:47 PM
Updated: Jul 22, 2019 10:38 AM

A Huntsville man discovered Apollo history while going through his father's old belongings: assembly instructions for the Saturn V, which carried man to the moon and was developed right here in Huntsville.

Like any driver, Mark Chesteen turns on the radio in the car. As he listened to a local radio show, he couldn't help but smile.

"Some guy called into the show and said, we could never build the Saturn V rocket again because they've lost all the paperwork and plans and stuff. I said guess again, because I've got them right here," Chesteen said. 

In the late 1950's, Chesteen's father, James, worked with NASA before it was even formed. He was part of Wernher Von Braun's group, called the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal. The group ultimately transferred to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in 1960, where James Chesteen played a big role in developing spacecrafts. Yet, the family never knew much. 

"Dad would never talk about work and never brought a piece of paper home, never brought anything," Chesteen said. "I just thought he got up and went to work everyday at five in the morning."

After James Chesteen passed away in 2009, Mark discovered old artifacts that gave a look into his father's work. The most important things were two detailed manuals, with pictures and blueprints on how to construct the booster for the Saturn V.

Mark says his father worked in three different labs at the Marshall Space Flight Center under Von Braun. To him, the house shaking from rocket launch testing wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

"[There were] big, thick, plate glass windows in the front of the house and the back of the house, and when they'd light those things up, [the house] would start shaking and they felt like they were going to jump out of the frames," Chesteen said.

Mark says his father described Von Braun as a quiet man. As a 10 year old, Mark met the famous rocket scientist at a Redstone Arsenal picnic.

"I just remember him being a snappy dresser, he was always well dressed, always had a nice car," Chesteen recalled.

Von Braun gave numerous awards to James, thanking him for his contributions to a number of projects, including the Saturn V. Mark remembers sitting on the beach of Cape Canaveral and says the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch brings him back to that day.

"They got presented with a challenge by President Kennedy, let's get to the moon in this decade, and they got it and made it happen," Chesteen said.

He plans to keep the manuals and awards his father left behind in the family, with hopes of keeping the history alive.

I'm just worried all this history is going to go away and nobody is going to know the whole story of what actually went on out there," Chesteen said.

Chesteen says his father was an engineer for the Apollo program, but is still working to learn the exact role he played in putting boots on the moon. 

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