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Imagine being on top of a 6 million-pound Saturn V rocket, 360 feet in the air, when the countdown reaches one.

The rocket fires five F-1 engines that burn 4.5 million pounds of fuel in 150 seconds and produce 7.5 million pounds of thrust. It then screams 38 miles high before reaching a second stage that takes it as far as 100 miles from the planet and out of the Earths atmosphere.

A third stage then leaves Earths orbit and heads to the moon, 238,000 miles away.

Fifty years ago today, 650 million people around the world watched this trip while on the edge of their seats, just a little more than two years after three astronauts died in a horrific fire while waiting to launch at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 1967. The Apollo 11 was a crowning achievement for the country and the planet, but it is worth pointing out several local sites that had key roles in the success of the program.

California contributions

During World War II, Southern California was a major area for aviation assembly lines. North American Aviation turned out many types of planes in its Los Angeles factories including the P-51 Mustang and the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

After the war, the companies made jets and missiles and by the mid-1950s the space program began to ramp up.

Its difficult to find the exact numbers of jobs that the Apollo program generated in the region, but North American Aviation in Downey was said to have 25,000 employees for the project.

Here are five places in Southern California that contributed to the Apollo 11 mission:

  • The second stage of the Saturn rocket was made by North American Rockwell in Seal Beach.
  • The third stage of the Saturn rocket was made by Douglas Aircraft (later McDonnell Douglas) in Huntington Beach.
  • The command capsule and service module were made by North American Rockwell in Downey.
  • The astronauts trained to fly the lunar module at Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster.
  • The F-1 (first stage engine) and J-2 (second and third stage) engines for the Saturn rocket were built in Canoga Park.

Russel Monroe, of Orange, above, holds a plaque with all the Apollo program patches. Monroe began working in aerospace in 1954 in Southern California.

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Monroe was hired by North American Aviation 12 days out of high school as a draftsman. His first job paid $1.57 an hour.

He proudly displays the hiring letter on a wall alongside patches, photos, paintings and memorabilia of all the missions he was a part of. He was a design engineer throughout the Apollo, Skylab, and several space shuttle missions, until he retired in 1991.

Monroe worked on the second stage of the Saturn rocket starting in 1963. He began working on the project in trailers set up at the Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach before a facility for his team was completed.

The second stage of the Saturn V rocket was 33 feet in diameter and 85 feet tall. It had five engines that could generate 1,250 pounds of thrust each. The second stage of the rocket was critical to getting Apollo 11 out of the Earths atmosphere.

Monroe has a lifes worth of memories from working on these big-picture NASA projects. One story regarding the second stage of the Saturn V rocket sheds some light on quality control.

“The Stage 2 was 85 feet tall, with a huge oval tank for fuel,” he said. “When it was going to be transported from Seal Beach we created a cradle out of polyurethane foam and as it was rotated, we heard clang, bang, boom! When we looked we found a welders tools that were just left in there. Hammers, screwdrivers and stuff. After that, they created what we called a tinkle test to search for small debris.”

The first, second and third stages of the Saturn V rocket that took Apollo 11 to the moon did not return to Earth. The Command Module, made in Downey, is all that returned of the 363-foot-tall rocket. It has to be, without a doubt, the most significant aerospace artifact on Earth. The module has been kept at the Smithsonian since the 1970s.

Where the Eagle landed

The next time you glance at the moon, take this into consideration. If you look at the center of the moon, then halfway to its edge youll see approximately where the first men to land were 50 years ago this week.

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