Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday. But his memory will always be part of the American psyche, especially in Seal Beach, which has a special connection to the Apollo lunar program.
Saturn V second stage, the rocket that carried Armstrong to the moon, was designed and built by North American Aviation workers in Seal Beach, said Gregg Smith, a spokesman for the .
“It was a very big challenge and a unique triumph in American history, and the Navy and the community of Seal Beach got to play a big part in that,” said Smith. "We're also proud of the fact that Neil Armstrong was a naval aviator before he became an astronaut."
The tall gray corrugated Booster Assembly buildings still dominate the Seal Beach skyline. The tallest structures in the city, they sit on the Seal Beach Naval Weapons station as unintended monuments to the aerospace ingenuity that sent the first man to the moon. Largely unchanged since the '60s, they are used today for storage, said Smith.
Between 1965 and 1973, anyone driving down Seal Beach Boulevard could see the massive rockets that played a key role in the Apollo missions. When the Seal Beach portions of the rockets were completed, transporting them to Florida was a major event.
“People would line Seal Beach Boulevard to see the boosters go down the street.”
Too big to pass under the Pacific Coast Highway bridge, the boosters had to be driven down Seal Beach Boulevard to Anaheim Bay, where the Navy shipped them through the Panama Canal to Florida, where the Saturn V was assembled for launch, said Smith. The streetlights on Seal Beach Boulevard had to be put on swivels, because the boosters were too big to pass under them, he said.
The community’s connection to the moon landing always been a source of pride for Seal Beach, said Charles Antos, former mayor and city employee during the early '70s, when the Saturn V project was still active in Seal Beach.
Much of Seal Beach and north Orange County grew up around the aerospace industry.
As Americans watched Neil Armstrong take that “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” many in Orange County knew people who played a role in making it happen.