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‘One small step for man’ was taken with help from N.O. engineers

Booster rocket that sent man to the moon was built in New Orleans East

NEW ORLEANS — It was the morning of July 16, 1969, when Randy Tassin gathered his wife and children around the family TV.

At 9:32 a.m., a Saturn V rocket would rumble to life and propel Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon during a four-day trip.

It was a moment of joy for Tassin, who was a 31-year-old engineer with Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East. He was among 15,000 people who worked around the clock at the plant in an effort to beat the Russians to the moon.

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Armstrong would become the first man to walk on the moon four days later, something that would not have been possible without Tassin and his counterparts.

"The part that was built at Michoud was probably the most critical part in that it took this large rocket to get this mass off the ground,” Tassin said Tuesday on the 50th anniversary of the launch. “Without that, you could not have had the mission that we had.”

He remembers being on “pins and needles” during the launch and the moon walk.

“We were fairly confident in the hardware, but the mission was going to be new, and it was untested and it was 240,000 miles away,” he said.

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The booster rocket was built at Michoud and put together in the Vertical Assembly Building, an 18-story tall structure, before being shipped by barge to the Kennedy Space Center.

Cindy Donze Manto was just 16 when the Apollo 11 mission began. But she was so captivated by the event that she eventually authored a book on the history of Michoud.

She said that lawmakers on the local, state and federal levels are to thank for winning the fight to build the booster rockets in New Orleans.

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“It certainly didn't hurt that in the South we had a powerhouse of politicians,” Manto said. “In Louisiana we had Russell Long, Allen J. Ellender and F. Edward Hebert and Mayor Vic Schiro.”

While Florida and Texas often get the most mentions given the locations of the launch pad and mission control, Tassin said Michoud, though often overlooked, is equally important in the history books.

“Michoud doesn't get the credit they deserve,” he said, “but we have done some great things.”