Flashback: Big Guy Back in Orbit
Boeing is the prime contractor for the International Space Station. Many space station components, including the first Skylab living quarters, were built in Huntsville.
“The second day of December brought many people of north Alabama and south Louisiana to a heady brink in history. Particularly the employees and economic neighbors of the Martin-Marietta Aerospace plant in the Michoud suburb of New Orleans, and the Boeing Aerospace plant in the Huntsville-Madison County Jetplex, on the west edge of Huntsville,” we reported in the cover story in April, 1988.
That drumroll led to a phone call to Bob Hager, head of the Boeing space division in Huntsville, to tell him Boeing had won a 10-year, $750 million contract for the design and construction of the living quarters for the U.S. space station.
It also put Boeing back into the main arena of the U.S. space program — manned space flight. Since designing and building the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo program, which put man on the moon, Boeing had been largely relegated to the unmanned portion of the embattled NASA budget.
“This is our entry back,” said Hager, formerly director of Boeing’s Minuteman program. “It’s been 20 years since we’ve had a major role in the manned space program.”
During the down years, employment in Boeing’s space division in Huntsville had dwindled to over 100, but the space station contract meant a return of 2,200 jobs to Alabama, including 1,000 in the first year of the contract. A Huntsville marketing firm projected the contract would yield 13,000 new residents by 1991 — “a little frightening,” they said.
“We see ourselves at a starting point comparable to where Bill Boeing was when he built the first B&W in 1915,” said Hagar. “We will one day look back to this point in the space program with the same kind of vantage point.
“It’s the door to space commercialization, and the start of the early manned exploration of space. We take our role to be a member of the team building our industrial facilities in space and on to the moon and to Mars.”