SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Many people have forgotten that Sacramento played a critical role in putting a man on the moon 50 years ago.
Some of the rockets used in the Apollo program were built and tested in the region.
Before Neil Armstrong could walk on the moon, the rocket that got him there had to be test-fired right here in Sacramento County.
Don Brincka was the director of testing at Douglas Aircraft Test Facility near Rancho Cordova during the space race.
“Well, it’s still amazing that we were able to do that,” Brincka said. “We made the third stage of the three-stage vehicle and that’s the stage that took astronauts from earth orbit all the way to the moon — 240,000 miles.”
The rural Sacramento site employed approximately 1,500 people and was chosen because the area was filled with rocky gold mining tailings that created a buffer zone in case of an accidental explosion.
“It was an obvious and great choice for rocket testing,” Brincka said.
The facility closed in the 1970s and new homes are being built nearby. But some of the buildings remain, including the vertical checkout laboratory that can be seen from miles away.
“We took it there and did a final checkout before we shipped it to the cape for launch,” Brincka said.
Nearby Aerojet also contributed to the Apollo program, building the motor on the service module that was used in lunar orbit and the return to earth. Brincka said engineering was a lot different back then.
“There was no internet, which means there was no Google, you couldn’t ask anything, and we had no calculators,” he said.
Apollo may have never gotten off the ground without help from the Sacramento region.
Brincka plans on commemorating the 50th anniversary at a picnic with some of his fellow Sacramento-based retired engineers.
Aerojet continues to design and build rockets, including the Artemis program, which is set to return to the moon by 2024.