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Marshall Space Flight Center … A Legacy in Rocket Science
Photograph of NACA Pilot Photograph of an NACA pilot from the early days of rocket and aeronautics. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
From the mighty roar of rocket engines to amazing discoveries about our universe, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has pioneered America’s space journey. Sparked by Dr. Wernher von Braun's rocket team and the dream of sending spaceships to the moon, the city of Huntsville quickly earned the nickname, "Rocket City."

The term "Rocket Science" has been popularized as including several areas that are considered more engineering than science. The discipline includes mechanics (fluid mechanics, orbital mechanics, and flight dynamics), mathematics, control engineering, materials science, aerospace engineering, fluid dynamics, avionics, reliability engineering, propulsion technologies, chemistry, vibration and vibro-acoustic testing, structural engineering and many other areas of scientific and engineering expertise. Most of these areas also are found on Marshall's list of unique facilities and expertise.

Von Braun's team of German rocket scientists were engaged in rocket and missile development with the U.S. Army before NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center was established in 1960. The crowning development led by this prestigious group was the massive Saturn V rocket that transported the first humans to the moon. The Saturn rocket also lofted the nation’s first scientific space station, Skylab, into orbit. From this vantage point, Marshall stimulated space science with the world’s first space-based studies of the sun.

From the lessons learned during the Apollo program, Marshall designed the space shuttle's main engines; the two solid rocket boosters, which provide more than 80 percent of the launch thrust; and its external tank, which provides fuel to the space shuttle’s main engines during launch. The space shuttle has flown more than 120 missions since its first launch in 1981, having served multiple purposes including transporting people, supplies, and science experiments to the International Space Station. Additionally, the shuttle has been used to deliver satellites into space, including the Spacelab, a reusable laboratory enabling scientists to perform experiments in microgravity conditions while orbiting Earth. NASA relies on Marshall expertise for ongoing redesign, development, testing and flight performance of these key space shuttle propulsion elements.

Today, Marshall scientists and engineers are writing the first chapters of our country's new exploration story. They are preparing for NASA’s future missions to the moon and beyond by designing and building the Ares launch vehicles.

NASA's Ares rockets will propel America's next phase of space exploration. The Ares launch vehicles combine the best of the past with modern technology and capabilities to create a launch system that is capable of lifting more payload into orbit. Together with the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Altair lunar lander, the Ares launch system will enable a variety of missions including transporting crew and payload to the International Space Station, the moon, and more distant locations.

Marshall's contributions span the areas of space transportation, propulsion, systems development and integration, exploration, and science programs. With its legacy investment in rocket systems, its renowned expertise in engineering and science, and its world-class research, test and manufacturing facilities, Marshall Space Flight Center plays a key role in NASA's future.

Since the mighty Saturn V engine tests shook the ground in Huntsville like an earthquake, 50 years of space accomplishments have rocked our world, sparking innovation, creating jobs, and leading to life-enhancing and life-saving technologies. NASA discoveries give us insights about ourselves and our world. They inspire a new generation of explorers and give them tools to build a better future. We humans are, and will always be, compelled to explore and learn. As Dr. von Braun said, "Mankind’s reach should always exceed his grasp."

Marshall Space Flight Center continuously reaches for the stars. The journey never ends ...