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Huntsville’s Saturn V rocket gets a fresh look for Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary

WAAY 31 is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon launch this year.

Posted: Mar 22, 2019 7:50 PM
Updated: Mar 25, 2019 1:06 PM

WAAY 31 is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon launch this year.

Here in the Rocket City, we take for granted our easy access to the history and hardware that made that incredible mission possible, with much of it on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Their replica Saturn V rocket is undergoing a much-needed rehab, a challenging job made even more difficult by Alabama’s unpredictable weather.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center was the most visited paid attraction in the state in 2017. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center was the most visited paid attraction in the state in 2017.

It’s still the largest and most powerful rocket ever launched. Every man who ever walked on the moon got there on top of a Saturn V. Wernher von Braun and his team developed it at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

It's easy to see why it holds a special place of honor at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

“When you stand next to one of these, you realize how big it is, how powerful it is and what it took to design these things,” said James Dritt, a guest at the Rocket Center.

“Big rockets are really cool,” said another guest, Macy Brooks.

Guests young and old from all over the world travel to Huntsville to gaze up at the towering full-size replica that has stood proudly for twenty years as a stoic symbol of what President Kennedy called “the best of our energies and skills.”

You wouldn’t notice it from the interstate, where most people see it, but the years have taken a toll. The Saturn’s steel is riddled with rust, and the paint is blistering, flaking and faded. That just wouldn’t do, not with the 50th anniversary of the rocket’s most historic mission right around the corner.

The Space and Rocket Center’s Brenda Carr is in charge of restoring the Saturn V. At nearly 400-feet tall and in the middle of the most popular tourist attraction in the state, this was no weekend project.

“Gee. You just don’t paint a rocket every day,” said Carr. "Very excited to have it done for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.”

They consulted with experts on the type of paint to use, how to apply it and how to pay for it. Work started late last year with a budget of $1.3 million and a deadline of April 1st.

Travis Klosinski and his team from Industrial Coatings Group in Jemison stepped up to the challenge in the tallest, most unusual job they’ve ever tackled.

“I mean ain’t going to lie. The first day or two, it was a little uneasy for me, but after a week or two, it’s beautiful,” said Klosinski. “It had some years on it, for sure.”

PPG provided the special paint, and Birmingham steel erectors supplied the 300-ton crane. The work went much slower than predicted, thanks to something no one could have predicted.

“As challenging as the scale of this project was, the real problem, dealing with mother nature. They began work here in December, just a couple weeks into what would end up being the wettest winter in Huntsville history," said Klosinski. "This week was actually the longest stretch of decent weather they’ve had to work on it.”

Despite the setbacks, Klosinski is confident they will meet their deadline, and this local landmark will look better than ever, ready for her close-up in July and for many years to come.

"It was definitely different. I’ve enjoyed myself. Been a good experience," said Klosinski. "I’m gonna miss it.”

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