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Rocco Anthony Petrone (March 31, 1926–August 24, 2006) was an American engineer who was the third director of the NASAmarker's Marshall Space Flight Centermarker, from 1973 to 1974. Petrone previosuly served as director of launch operations at NASA's Kennedy Space Centermarker (KSC) from July 1966 until September 1969, and then as Apollo program director at NASA Headquarters.

Early life

The son of Italian immigrants (his parents were from Sasso di Castaldamarker in Basilicata) and born in Amsterdam, New Yorkmarker, Petrone was raised Roman Catholic and attended the United States Military Academymarker at West Pointmarker. There he played defensive tackle in the 1945 national football championship winning team. Graduating in 1946, he served in Germany from 1947 to 1950.

He also earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker in 1951 and received an honorary doctorate from Rollins Collegemarker. During two decades with the U.S. Army, Petrone took part in developing the Redstone rocket, the first U.S. ballistic missile and the vehicle used to launch America's first astronauts, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom on their suborbital missions. He retired from the Army in 1966 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

NASA career

In 1960, Petrone was transferred to NASA. There, Petrone presided over the development of the Saturn V launch vehicle and launch operations, what he dubbed the "five-month marathons," leading up to each launch. He oversaw construction of all the launch elements of the Apollo program, including Launch Complex 39marker, the Vertical Assembly Buildingmarker and the Crawler-Transporter, all of which were modified for Space Shuttle operations. He retired from the Army in 1966 but continued at work at NASA sites, being promoted to director of launch operations at KSC that year. Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, he was appointed director of the entire Apollo program. In 1972, he was assigned additional responsibilities as program director of the NASA portion of the U.S. and the Soviet Unionmarker joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

Petrone was described as demanding by his NASA colleagues. Humboldt C. Mandell, Jr. said that once:

Petrone (l) and Werner Von Braun talk during preparations for a Saturn 1 launch at LC-37
served for one year as the first non-German administrator of the Marshall Space Flight Centermarker, after Wernher von Braun and Eberhard Rees. At the time NASA was undergoing budget cutbacks, and his tenure was marked with many reassignments or firings. In 1974, Petrone left the Marshall Center to accept an appointment as the third-highest ranking NASA official as associate administrator.

After NASA

In 1975, Petrone retired from NASA and became the president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Resource Recovery, a joint industry/labor effort to develop and encourage ways to recover materials and energy from solid waste. In the 1980s, Petrone held senior posts at Rockwell International, manufacturer of the Space Shuttle Orbiter.

Prior to the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-51-L, he advised the launch not take place. This was because he was worried the overnight freezing temperatures may have damaged the thermal protection system. This was not the cause, however, of the launch failure that killed seven astronauts.

He died on August 24, 2006 from complications related to diabetes in Palos Verdes Estates, Californiamarker, aged 80.


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