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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rockets on the River

Today I got a Meebo request asking if I could find some information on NASA transporting Apollo rockets by river. At first I was a little skeptical: a rocket floating down the river? That’s crazy! It turns out it actually happened and Mississippi played a role in it!

With the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in October of 1957, America really began to feel the pressure in the space race. In answer to Sputnik, America began designing and building several Saturn rockets as part of NASA’s Apollo program. The Saturn rockets were built in three different stages. The first and second stages were assigned to Chrysler and Boeing. The companies were given the Michoud Ordnance plant in New Orleans to set up production. The plant was huge! 46 acres under one roof! Static testing of the first and second stages were to take place at the Mississippi Test Facility in Hancock County, MS, now known as The John C. Stennis Space Center. Stennis is now America’s largest rocket engine testing facility! In fact, there is a saying that goes, “If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Mississippi” ( From Stennis, the rockets then made their way to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.

Shipment of the oversized pieces from Huntsville, AL to Michoud to the Mississippi Test Center to the Kennedy Space Center proved to be a challenge. The pieces were so large that transportation on the road was impossible. To solve this problem NASA opted to use a fleet of barges and ships. If things needed to get somewhere in a hurry NASA also used two Stratocruisers called “Pregnant Guppy” and “Super Guppy” to fly parts to their destinations.

Parts of the Saturn V being transported by barge is escorted by two tug boats.

Above is a map of the Saturn Barge route. The route began in Huntsville and ended in Cape Canaveral with stops along the way in New Orleans at Michoud and in Hancock County, MS at the Mississippi Test Center.

The Super Guppy! The front of the plane opened 110 degrees for easier loading.

I hope this answers your question, Meebo patron!

Cortright, E.M., Ed. (1975). Apollo Expeditions to the Moon. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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