SP-4223 "Before This Decade Is Out..."


Chapter 7

Arthur J. ROGERS, Jr.

(1932- )



Arthur J. <<Jack>> Rogers, Jr., chief of the Facilities Engineering Office, at the Mississippi Test Facility (renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988).

Arthur J. "Jack" Rogers, Jr., chief of the Facilities Engineering Office, at the Mississippi Test Facility (renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988). Rogers was instrumental in the design, construction, and activation of the Center and significant in the test operations for the Saturn V. (NASA Photo.)


[173] Arthur J. Rogers Jr. was born on July 18, 1932, at Gulfport, Mississippi. After attending the Gulfport public schools, Mr. Rogers earned a BS degree in civil engineering from the University of Mississippi.

After several years as a structural engineer with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Mobile District, Mr. Rogers began his career with NASA in 1960 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where he worked as a facility project engineer. In 1965, he transferred to the Mississippi Test Facility (now the John C. Stennis Space Center) to work as manager of the Facility Engineering Office. Since October 1988, Mr. Rogers served as director of Center Operations at the John C. Stennis Space Center until his retirement in the early 1990s.

Mr. Rogers is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Chi Epsilon Honor Society. He has been the recipient of a number of NASA awards, including the Outstanding Leadership Medal and the Exceptional Service Medal.

Mr. Rogers is married to the former Lois Barber. They have three children: a daughter, Cindy, and two sons, Gary and David.


[174] Editor's Note: The following interview has been edited from an original interview with Arthur J. Rogers, Jr. that was conducted by Dr. Charles Bolton and Mr. Steven Patterson. The interview, in Mr. Rogers' office at the Stennis Space Center on October 4, 1991, is part of the Stennis Space Center History Project, in conjunction with the Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi.



Was there anything in your background that led you into engineering, which eventually led you to your NASA career?

Well, my father was an engineer. He wasn't trained, college trained. He, as they did back in those days, began in road building. He was always involved in highway engineering and construction. So it kind of flowed through the genes from him to have an interest in that field.

My grandfather on my mother's side was a craftsman. He was a tinsmith. He always wanted some of the family or his grandchildren to be an architect. He had a son that was an engineer, and three grandchildren [that] all became engineers.


You come from a family of engineers then.

I think it was the right thing. I knew it from a very early age, and it was never a big question that I wanted to be an engineer. The only questions came in college when the courses got tough. Was I going to be tough enough to stay with them? [laughter]


You said that when you first began to see the space program that you were very interested in getting involved in it. Maybe you could just tell us about the times, the people, how they viewed the space program. Was it an exciting thing to see this thing develop?

As a kid, I remember some nights playing out and looking at the stars and just wondering, "By golly, I wonder what's past those stars. What's past the stars and even beyond that?" Just thinking about that started my interest. It wasn't deep thinking. Just an interest was there to explore or to be a part of something to explore.

[175] When we got close to the activities and seeing the hardware and working on the facilities that were to be, testing and building this hardware [used for the Apollo program], and knew we were indeed going to take things forward, there was real excitement. The time that we got into it, of course, we were getting on the threshold of having the manned flights. Sputnik was up and Explorer I had been put up after the Navy's Vanguard collapsed on the pad. That was a low point for most everybody that was interested in space. But when my work in Huntsville got going, it was just on the edge of the Mercury program.

When I went with NASA in 1960, it was interesting to go through some of the buildings, and you'd see in this area that they were testing and checking out the little capsule that the chimp, I think, Ham the chimpanzee was there. So we saw some of that going on. The seven original astronauts would be in and around because they were checking the progress of hardware that was leading to their launch. Then the Russians put up Yuri Gagarin and that gave a more excited pace to this.

I think it was in the spring of 1961 that Alan Shepard went up. That was a real exciting time for all of us. Then, a year or so later, John Glenn orbited. We huddled around the radios and listened to that and couldn't wait to see some of the little, funny, jittery pictures that came back of the first people being in this weightless experience. The nation was excited about that. Everybody in the program was excited and young.

That's a thing that we look back on now and we say, "Golly, we can't let these kids get in here and do these things and take responsibility for this design, this piece of hardware." We forget that we were all at that time given as much responsibility and authority as you were willing to reach out for and do. We were in our late twenties and early thirties. Now we've gotten older and we think, "Kids that young can't be that smart."

But there was plenty of work and everybody was excited. There wasn't enough time in the day to get it done. It was exciting. Maybe you got depressed a little on Sundays or the weekend because you couldn't be out there doing something. You couldn't wait to get back Monday to pick up the slack and start going. [176] Something the nation was interested in, and it really got a lot of publicity, and you felt that you were contributing to part of that. That just made every day exciting.


Sounds like it was more than just a job.

I think that's a fair summary of it. It was almost like saying, "We're doing all this and having this fun, and they're giving us money for it to boot." But, of course, you had to have the money to keep the wife and the children happy, part of your life. And they enjoyed it too.

In Huntsville at that time, in the early '60s, it was just a vibrant town. You had the old team of the German scientists that had come over here that were in management and leadership positions. You had a lot of enthusiastic young people that were coming on doing work under their guidance, exchanging their experience, and having failures but mainly having more successes than failures.


Let me move ahead just a little bit to bring in this facility. I understand that you played an inadvertent role, maybe, in the selection of this particular site [the present Stennis Space Center]. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

We were working in Huntsville, and being in the facilities office, you're kind of in the hub of all the planning and the expansion going on under Marshall Space Flight Center's responsibility. Which even at that time still included the Cape, which was called Launch Operations Directorate of Marshall. Now it has spun off and is Kennedy Space Center.


So it was all controlled by Marshall?

At that time, in the early '60s, it was a subset of Marshall Space Flight Center . . .

We were aware that the administrator of NASA, Jim Webb at the time, said, "We ought to be looking to the future as we are starting to go to the Moon and determine where we could bring all our....



The barge <<Pearl River>> transports the first stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-IC, along the East Pearl River in 1967 in preparation for testing at the Mississippi Test Facility.

The barge "Pearl River" transports the first stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-IC, along the East Pearl River in 1967 in preparation for testing at the Mississippi Test Facility. (NASA Photo 67-1962.)


....space activity together like a cosmodrome. Put together a spaceport that had the manufacturing, the testing, the training, the launching, the control, all at one place." So he had a group of engineers to look at this and naturally he turned to the von Braun team to look at where we could find a place to put all of those aspects together. So near the facilities office this group was put together, and it included some of our people. But not me directly. They were looking at places from Corpus Christi, Texas, all the way around to Sea Island, Georgia, all across the coast. Came to pass on a Friday afternoon, much as we are here, the committee was looking at this in their report. They took a break and we were chatting with some of the people that were on it at a coffee break, or having a Coke. I said, "What are ya'll doing?" They said, "We're getting the Corps of Engineers to do some soil investigation south of New Orleans, down there in the marsh, for building this new test facility." Since I grew up in Gulfport and another gentleman that was with me was [178] from Mobile, we said, "What are you going out in the marshes for? That's where the mosquitoes are and you've got hurricanes."

"Oh, it's got to be close to the manufacturing plant, Michoud over there."

So we said, "There's got to be a better place than that." So we broke out a Texaco road map and looked for a better location to meet their need for navigable waterways, to be close to Michoud, to be on high ground and not near a lot of population. That's why they were looking at the marshes. But they could understand that we were saying, "You're going to have storms. There's going to be subsidings, you're going to have to dike it. You're going to have to spend a lot of money trying to protect it. You ought to be looking for someplace else." So we looked at the map and said, "Well, gee, we fished around here, we know the Pearl River is navigable up above Highway 90. Look, here in this area is an area that's colored to be high ground, about 25 or 30 feet. We know there's not too many people here. You ought to look at that."

"By golly," he said-a gentleman named Godfrey Hoffman-and he said, "Well, by golly, we'll take it back in there." So they went back into the committee and the next thing we know they were coming out and making phone calls to little post offices around here: Santa Rosa, Napoleon, Gainesville, getting the population [figures].

Then they, three or four of them, chartered a plane on Saturday and flew down here and drove around the area. Kind of from that point on you began to see reports saying this is a good place to have the test facilities since you're manufacturing the Apollo first stage over in New Orleans at Michoud. Very quickly it went on to be selected, in October of 1961, as the place to do the testing. They announced it and started acquiring the land.


It hadn't been one of the sites they were considering before that time?

No, not really. They had been looking at Eglin, and other Air Force bases, and King Ranch in Texas, and some other islands. Again, some of the area down in Florida where Kennedy Space Center is now, and other areas were getting significant looks.

[179] So anyway, I like to think that we were at the right spot at the right time to kind of focus [attention on south Mississippi]. But then it had to win on its merits that we had pointed out.


Would you be working here and in Huntsville? Would you be working back and forth or were you primarily relocated down in south Mississippi at this point?

Initially it was all in Huntsville. Because you were just doing the design and there was limited construction and work going on here, as the Corps was still acquiring the land. Then, beginning in 1964, there was significant work going on here. So we began to have more time down here on site to be dealing with questions in real time. So we used to commute from Huntsville down here weekly. They set up a charter plane, because there were so many people coming down, that would fly from Huntsville down-wheels up at six o'clock Monday morning and then drop us off at Picayune. We'd get out here and have vehicles and things and spend the week working here. Unless you were out in California reviewing some designs or in St. Louis or something like that. Then fly back Friday evening. Of course, those were pretty good happy hours going back. The plane had an open bar, so sometimes during the two-hour flight going back up there, there was a lot of pain forgotten about what went on back here during the week.

That lasted till about June of '65 when it was decided that they ought to start putting that decision process closer to where the work was. They began to establish the working group, the operations group, and a new group that began to emerge called the Activation Task Force down here, where the three very active parties, design and construction and then the activation would take that construction, put all the electronics in and check it out, integrate it and begin to flow liquids through it and gases and prove it out. Then over to operations, eventually to go ahead and do the testing. So it was obvious you couldn't do that decision making from long distance, so we were moved down here.

I moved down in '65 and was finally officially transferred in the end of '65, just before 1966. So it was a transition down here to get involved.


[180] Would you have been one of the first group of people that became permanent onsite employees?

Well, not really, because the test operations as they call them, Mississippi Test Operations, was building up . . . General Electric was a contractor here, and the first government people were managing that contractor who was beginning to get a few buildings that they had to maintain, to take over some of the construction. The fire station was among the first things that was done. So they began to equip it and began to get their emergency procedures prepared. So Mississippi Test Operations, some 20 or 30 people, began to emerge before we got down here.

Then in '65, because of the activation and the operations, they created a new management structure and brought in the gentleman, Mr. Jack Balch, from Huntsville. Under his direction they began to put together an expanded organization here. That included activation, the old working group which brought the corporate knowledge, if you please, from the engineering and the requirements side, and others, and began to build what was going to actually manage and run the place.

Coming back to Mississippi, home to this area was nice. I was pleased to finally accept the transfer and to still continue a meaningful job here.


What did the development of this facility mean to the Marshall Space Center? Was the Mississippi facility seen as kind of a stepchild?

Well, in the beginning it was a very important part of it, because these stages-we'd tested several of these Apollo stages in Huntsville. I lived eight or 10 miles from the site and it just shook the hell out of the houses. Of course, you had shopping centers and schools and things that were much closer than I was. So it [Huntsville] began to realize that this is good but it isn't like the old days of Redstone and Jupiter where there was a little noise; this thing shook. [laughter] Now you are dealing with seven and a half million pounds of thrust. And another one that was a million and a half.

[181] There was plenty of work going on, plenty. All of their test stands were full, so this was just a good place to send the rest of this work and let the contractors prove that their hardware met the specifications. So it was just very much of a marriage together. I mean interrelationships were good. Technical people were down here all the time, and we had good communication links back and forth with them.

After Apollo, then, some difficulties began where we felt we ought to go and where Marshall wanted to go in the future. We were cutting back on the amount of hardware. There wasn't the need for that much testing. So they were having some of their test facilities being empty and not having roles. So they said, "We'll just need to shut down this place and we'll do future work up here. Fill up the home base." So as our manager, Jack Balch, was striving to continue the investment that was created here and the commitment that Stennis made to the people of this area to provide jobs, opportunities, excitement, a place for their people to go off to school, and come back and work. Then it began to be a struggle to keep this alive, and as budgets got tougher, every dollar that went here was a dollar that didn't go to Huntsville. So there began to be a little bit of a strain, and it led to some difficult times I think.

In general, all our work today comes through Marshall. They are the development center for the major booster propulsion systems for the agency and always will be. They have that expertise well-entrenched up there. But we are getting to be recognized as the place with the facilities and the capabilities to really manage the testing. The big contractors were told to prove their hardware-type testing at Stennis. We have come full cycle now to begin to define a good, professional, cooperative arrangement to give plenty of work for both parties. This gives meaningful lines of responsibility. We're not taking over their decision making, but we also want to be able to make decisions as appropriate for our work function at Stennis. That's coming together now under the leadership of Roy Estess [director of Stennis] and Jack Lee1 who is the director of Marshall in Huntsville.

So anyway, yes, there were times, but I think in any industry when you have diverse locations of it and times get tough, they ....



An aerial photo showing the three engine test complexes at the Mississippi Test Facility. In the foreground is the B Complex, which was originally used to test the first stage (S-IC) of the Apollo Saturn V rocket.

An aerial photo showing the three engine test complexes at the Mississippi Test Facility. In the foreground is the B Complex, which was originally used to test the first stage (S-IC) of the Apollo Saturn V rocket. The B Complex is a dual engine test stand (B1 and B2 test stands) that has been modified for single engine tests. This test stand is currently being used for testing of the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the Low Cost Boost Technology Program. In the background are the two single engine test stands that make up the A Complex. These two stands were originally used to test the two upper stages of the Apollo Saturn V (S-II and S-IVB). (NASA Photo 91-447.)


....always want to keep the home office and give up the diversity, the outlying activities. And that's not always happy when you are out on the end. Particularly when you see you have some nice facilities and some capability and feel you can contribute.


When the facility became operational, I guess in the mid to late '60s, and started the testing for the Saturn, was there a sense of mission among the NASA engineers out here to complete those tests?

Absolutely. Dedication first of all to bring all of this facility together. Here is an extremely highly technical facility, but that [183] includes all the support stuff from the sewer systems and the water systems and the roads and the medical facilities and warehousing, all the way to the control centers with sophisticated instrumentation. With barges carrying liquid hydrogen in the amounts that have never been done before. Here's a liquid that's minus 423 to 427 degrees. The coldest liquid known. A brand new stage that had never been fired before, and it was on the critical path, on the road to the Moon. So we had an awful lot of attention from one end of the country to another about getting this place ready to do this testing and to qualify this second stage vehicle. So 20 [or] 24 hour days, seven days a week was the norm and not the exception at that time.

But on the other side, in three years from really starting construction, like the fence, setting the fence out here, clearing in 1962 time frame, well, I guess it's four years, until spring of 1966. We had the first firing here in four years. All of this area, piney forest and everything, was transformed into a high technical facility. People were brought in, people were recruited and trained, and brought to understand what was going on here by the local population. Sure, there were some people from other areas in here. Boy, it was exciting to lead to that first countdown and have the first one, even though it was just two or three seconds. And that's all that was planned, is just to prove it. To see the first fire and smoke was just great excitement.

Of course, it went on from there to activate the next test stand and then to doing the big first stage testing of Saturn IC, which was a seven and a half million pound thrust vehicle. Just to feel your garments being shaken a mile away, hearing that tremendous noise and saying, "You know, that thing, that explosion is under control. People are sitting over there in a blockhouse and they are controlling that amount of energy release. It's amazing!" So it was just a tingling of excitement all the time. And then to know that you were moving steadily and progressively to achieving the goals that were going to put man on his greatest adventure, to leave this planet and step foot on another planet in the solar system was exciting. Time passed fast.


[184] Talking about working all those hours, all those days, what kind of effect did that have on the families of the NASA engineers, the daily life outside of work?

Well, I think in general the families were caught up in it too. Now, they may not have been out here working or couldn't understand some of the frustrations of some of the things. But the excitement was there too. The whole nation was looking at the Apollo program, the whole nation was from time to time looking at Mississippi in this area. Here was the critical event to do. Or here was the next critical test. So when you were doing a test, it was national news. The families were caught up and understanding what that meant. When they could see the guys come home tired, but still excited and ready to get back the next day, I think they knew just how much it meant for them. It was different. There's bound to be a strain on some of the family situations, just like any military, and they can't stand the awayness so some families fall apart, but others stick together and enjoy the excitement and look forward to the next step. Whatever it might be.


After the last test, the last test of the Apollo, the Saturn rockets, how soon was it before people here started to feel concerns about the future of the facility? Was it almost immediate?

No, it was well before the last test. Of course, like any schedule you can begin to see that two or three years in advance, "Here comes the last one out of manufacturing. Here it's coming down, are we going to go further than the Moon? Are we going to do something else?" We see that there is no planning coming on for the next vehicle. At one time we talked about a 25 or 30 million pound launch vehicle called Nova. So you began two years or so to see that the end of the pipe was running dry. But you are so busy doing what it is.

Then, of course, right after the landing on the Moon, those of us that live down here know what happened almost a month to the day. It was Hurricane Camille. That was real devastation to the area. Our attention was pulled away from doing rocket testing and [185] everything, to helping to heal the Coast. Healing in many cases our own lives, what damage or loss had occurred. For some period of time we were focused away from the main line and working with the various entities on the Coast to get back up. To get the municipal services going and get things back to seminormal, which took a year or more.

Three or four months later we got back to the first testing here and then within a year or so the last one had been tested, and I guess, of course, we were doing a lot of planning for the future even before that. What is down-moding, you know? How far down do we down-mode? We are hearing that we are not giving up in space, but we have not defined what the next opportunity is going to be in space. We are talking now, you know, '70, '71.

So it was kind of tough. Here is a bunch of things where we went down from about 3,700-3,800 people here to 900, I guess; it went down around 900, under a 1,000. And we're mothballing things. Then we began to get political support and to bring in other resident agencies in here, such as the National Data Buoy Office and Coast Guard. And some others-the EPA, began to move here to use the buildings, U.S. Geological Survey began to come in. So we began to have some use until about '72 or '73.

Then the decision was made, "Well, we're going to build a flyable system that can go up and come back repeatedly and be low cost." That was called the Shuttle. The new set of engines to be developed for that had to be tested somewhere. I guess here again was a great deal of tug of war between Marshall and Stennis.

"We can test it up in Huntsville, we don't need to do it down there. It costs too much."

"Yes, but these are newer facilities and it can be done better here."

Plus we have a very strong senator who had made big commitments to the people. One: the technical understanding of the agency, that this was the best place to do it. Newest, most modern facility. Two: it didn't hurt to have good strong political support. So then we got assigned for the Shuttle engine testing. So now we've started up again on modifying test stands and beginning to bring together test crews again to test the Shuttle engine. Which started mid-'70s and is still going on. [laughter] And it will go on to some [186] extent as long as we are flying the Shuttle. All the engines will fly so many times and then they'll have to be pulled off and components taken and refurbished. Then before you fly them again, they'll go back for some hot firing tests.

As long as they're flying the Shuttle, we will have some test stands available, one or two. We have three stands that we are testing Shuttle engines on now, but I feel in the next few years, the program will be smoothed out to where we won't be bringing in new components and trying to improve it. One or two stands might be turned over to us to put another program on.


Let me ask you a few questions about some other things. First, back to Camille. You mentioned Camille. What kind of damage did it do to the facility?

It did very little damage to the facility. It was less than a million dollars worth. That was mainly roofs. Like this building, the wind blew all the gravel off the roof. [laughter] It just peppered the cars parked in the lot, causing a lot of grief.

It blew roofing materials off, or vents, or roll up doors. Nothing substantial. As a matter of fact, let me loop through to another story. When we built the facility here we built some buildings called the Stage Storage Buildings, which were like big hangers. Two bays for the first stage and three bays for the second stage. The idea being when we received the stages from Michoud or from the West Coast-the second stage was built out there and shipped through the Panama Canal. When we received them we would instrument them for testing and get them all ready. But if you had bad weather coming-we knew we have hurricanes-then you could get them off the stand and put them in the hangers where they'd be safe.

Well, as we got in business, by the time you put them in the stands and you put all the tubing and instruments and everything in there, and when we hear a storm is coming I've got to have so much time to get those things out. I can only lift them out when the wind is less than 10 miles an hour, or something like that. I've got so many days to disconnect and then I've got to move them and transport them. When you line all that out, every time there....



The second stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-II, is hoisted into the A-2 test stand at the Mississippi Test Facility in 1967.

The second stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-II, is hoisted into the A-2 test stand at the Mississippi Test Facility in 1967. (NASA Photo 67-703-C.)


....is a hurricane that got somewhere beyond Puerto Rico, we had to start disrupting testing. We had done that once and finally we said, "Well, let's don't do that. We think they'll be safe. You can leave them in the stand, we'll clean off things. We'll put pressure on the [188] inside so they won't collapse. And leave them." As a matter of fact, during Camille we had stages on each of the stands out there. Two second stages and a first stage. Of course, we secured the stands and pressurized the bird. And stood back for a day or two.

No major damage was done to the facility. In fact, we housed, I think, something like 7,000 refugees out here. People who were practically homeless afterwards or that were flooded and lost things. We were a refugee center.


Where would you house them?

In here.


In these offices?

Yes, you might have a family in here. But also in the halls in this building and several other buildings. In fact there was a-what was it-a nursing home group almost, you know, just on the leading edge of it, came out here with cots and beds and sick people. We put them in another area. We had many places to set them up, and we were able, a little bit, to try to feed them out of the cafeteria. But that ran out pretty quick.

The other thing that got to be so nice is we have auxiliary power units out here. We can manufacture some of our own electrical power. We can't run the whole place, but we can do what's necessary. We could turn those generators on and we could have air conditioning here. We didn't have power for 30 days or so in many areas of the Coast. So it got to be very difficult to get the people to leave so we could get back to business. We had food here, air conditioning, [laughing] it wasn't too bad. And when they go back home there were trees down and everything. Maybe they didn't have a house or something. Honest to goodness it got to be a little difficult to finally get them to say, "We can't keep this up." In fact, I think it was about two weeks before we finally got the last of the people to kind of get on out of here and let us get back to what our real work was to be.




1. James R. Thompson was director of Marshall from September 29, 1986, to July 6, 1989. The current director is Arthur G. Stephenson.