A giant Apollo moon rocket that never got off the ground is about to get a face lift after years of rusting away in the Texas heat and humidity at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Workers will construct a shelter for the Saturn V rocket and give it the equivalent of a “blow dry” in the first steps to preserve the relic of NASA’s golden age, said Allan Needell, Apollo program curator for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
The 363-foot-long (110-meter-long) behemoth has lain on its side in front of the space center since 1977 — a favorite sight of tourists, but also a victim of the elements.
Instead of launching astronauts to the moon as it was built to do, it has become a slowly fading hulk of peeling paint and corroded metal where birds live and plants sprout, Needell said Wednesday during a visit to the rocket.
“There’s a lot of biology growing on there,” he said, pointing out streaks of algae staining the rocket’s white skin.
One of only three
Needell said the Smithsonian was preserving the Saturn V because it was one of only three Apollo rockets still in existence and therefore an important artifact of mid-20th-century life.
It was built to launch the Apollo 18 flight, but never flew because NASA canceled the moon program after Apollo 17 in December 1972.
The other Saturn V’s are on display at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Display building planned
Parts of the rocket at Johnson Space Center are saturated with water after years in the elements and will be dried out with heated air, Needell said. Structural repairs will then be made and the rocket repainted.
A permanent display building will eventually be constructed to house the rocket, he said.
Needell said the preservation work should be completed by summer of next year. The $4 million project is being paid for by government grants, but also needs about $750,000 in private donations, he said.