shuttle-crawler-transporter.gifIn the run-up to America’s attempt to land on the moon “before the decade [of the 1960s] is out,” NASA recruited the best of the best from anywhere they could find them. Petrone was an engineer with the U.S. Army, and the Army loaned him to NASA, where as the Saturn Project Officer he helped develop the Saturn rocket that launched the U.S. to the moon. He also oversaw the construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building, a huge facility that could hold four fully assembled Saturn rockets, and the Crawler-Transporter, the gigantic platform that moved the completed Saturn rockets (and still moves the assembled Space Shuttle) from the VAB to the launch pad. Once finished with those tasks, he became Director of Launch Operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and in 1969 was promoted to Apollo Program Director at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. After the program ended he became the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and, after retiring from NASA in 1975, became head of shuttle programs for prime shuttle contractor Rockwell. There, he recommended against the launch of the shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. His recommendation was ignored, leading to the first deaths of American astronauts during spaceflight. Petrone retired from Rockwell in 1989, and died August 24 after fighting heart problems and diabetes. He was 80.

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