Monday, April 30, 2012

Boeing Huntsville: 50 years in Space

Employees and dignitaries gather around as Boeing Huntsville site
Vice-president Tony Jones makes remarks during Boeing employees
celebrating the company's 50th year in Alabama celebration, Monday,
April 30, 2012 [Robin Conn/The Huntsville Times].
Lee Roop
The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville almost lost Boeing once, but hundreds celebrating the company's golden anniversary in North Alabama Monday don't expect that to happen again. "We will continue to have a strong presence in Alabama," promised Roger Krone, president of Network and Space Systems for the world's largest aerospace corporation.

Boeing had 4,500 Huntsville workers in the 1960s, when it helped NASA build the Saturn V booster that took Americans to the moon and the lunar rover that ferried them across its surface.

When the Apollo program ended abruptly in the 1970s, Boeing's employment dropped to fewer than 100 people in Huntsville, local leaders recalled Monday. It remained small until the 1980s when work on the International Space Station began a steady growth.

"How many of you came back to Huntsville from Wichita in 1984?" Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie asked Boeing workers and retirees gathered at the company's complex near the Huntsville International Airport.

A few hands went up, including electrical engineer Dwight Potter's. He actually came from Wichita in 1981, a few years before the Wichita simulation engineers arrived in 1984.

Boeing has nearly 3,000 workers in Huntsville today, local site executive Tony Jones said, and it is working with NASA on the next-generation heavy-lift space rocket and with the Army on ground-based missile defense.

The support contract for the missile defense program will keep many Boeing employees here working for the next seven years.

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