50 years ago, the Apollo 11 capsule landed on the moon, and history was made. The moment when Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the dusty surface, and said “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” was so powerful that for many it still resonates as the epitome of human technological achievement.
Given the iconic stature of the lunar landing, it is amazing that so few New Orleanians (let alone the rest of the country) know that it was New Orleans that lifted Armstrong and his crew to the moon. Indeed, the Saturn V rocket – the most powerful rocket ever made – was built at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), in New Orleans East. But whenever I informally poll an audience – “Who knows that New Orleans sent man to the moon?” – typically only a smattering of hands goes up.
Following Apollo, the massive external fuel tank for the Space Shuttle was built for three decades at Michoud, allowing humans to rocket into orbit, and then return safely. And now today, Michoud is producing two propulsion modules for NASA’s Space Launch System, which will make new claim as the world’s most powerful rocket, and will send humankind to the Moon, and then, to Mars.
Other advances at Michoud are taking place, as well. For example, LM Windpower, a private company at MAF, is developing the longest maritime wind turbine blades in the world – some over 1 ½ football fields in length. (Good thing Michoud has 31 football fields of space under roof.)
Yes – Greater New Orleans is home to a bunch of rocket scientists. We need to teach and take pride in that fact, and let the world know!
And there’s more. Before Michoud was freeing humans from gravity, it was saving the free world. In 1942 local Andrew Higgins received a contract to build 200 Liberty Ships, and chose the Michoud site. The Higgins workforce was the first in New Orleans to be racially integrated, and all were paid equal wages according to their job rating. The “Higgins Boat” was used during the Normandy Invasion on D-day, and it is considered one of the key reasons the Allies won WWII. Said General Eisenhower, “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”
The fact is, New Orleans has always been home to cutting-edge advanced manufacturing. If it goes miles into space, miles out to sea, or miles into the ground – the technology was likely invented, perfected and implemented in Greater New Orleans (we will give Hancock County, home of Stennis rocket testing center, honorary membership).
It is critically important that this history and expertise is known, both within and outside of the region. Not only is it a justifiable point of pride, but it is important that the next generation of rocket scientists are inspired by this legacy, and that locals know we may sometimes have to fight for it. From a brand perspective, as well, Michoud broadens the stereotypical perspective of what Greater New Orleans is good at.
The opportunity to build rockets is only going to grow. Space is the next economic and geopolitical frontier, and if Michoud can play a major role, we will continue to benefit from rocket scientist at home, and freedom abroad – and in the stars.
The lunar landing was one small step for MAF, which has a legacy of making giant technological leaps for mankind. To let people know, GNO, Inc. has now placed billboards on I-10 that proclaim: “New Orleans – Building Rockets Since 1961.”
You can read more about the history of Michoud Assembly Facility here.