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A Bus Tour of Rocketdyne on June 29, 2013

I am not sure where this test stand was located within Rocketdyne but could be the Alfa test stand which still remains today.
I have always been fascinated with the Rocketdyne facility hidden up in the Santa Susana mountains perfectly tucked between the San Fernando and Simi Valleys. A location with so much history and influence (and controversy) but yet so secret and inaccessible. For more history on the Rocketdyne facility, I recommend visiting WikipediaRocketdyneArchives.com (which has an amazing collection of historical photos), and EnviroReporter.com (numerous articles and pictures).

One of the original Rocketdyne buildings that might not exist anymore.
This site intrigued me so much that it became my first topic discussed on this blog in response to the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, Japan back on March 2011 which happened to coincide with Rocketdyne since this location unfortunately experienced the world's first partial nuclear meltdown back in 1959. Is it any surprise that this "first" incident happened in the SFV?

The entrance to Rocketdyne at the intersection of Woolsey Canyon and Black  Canyon Roads.
With all of this mystery, technological marvel, the impact on the Apollo missions, and the Cold War, I have always been trying to get closer and see what remains were left. The closest I got was through Sage Ranch Park back on February 2013 which borders the site and has a great view of the northern end of the site where the Component Test Laboratory II is located owned by NASA. But as part of the cleanup efforts, not much actually remains today and the view from Sage Ranch doesnt show everything nor any of the remaining test stands. And for those that dont know, the plan is to turn over this site in 2017 to the State of California as a state park so all entities involved are furiously hurrying to wash their hands from this site, no pun intended. 
The view from Sage Ranch showing the Component Test Laboratory II which is owned by NASA.
So I was excited to find out one day that Boeing actually offers Bus and Walking Tours as part of the outreach efforts to educate the public. Upon hearing this, I immediately signed up for the Bus Tour scheduled for Saturday June 29, 2013 and was drowning in anxiety waiting for the day to finally come to get past the main access security checkpoint which is the only structure view-able by the public from Woolsey Canyon Road.
Inside Rocketdyne with the tour bus on the left hand side.
The map given to attendees courtesy the Boeing Company.
The Bus Tour was awesome as we were led by Boeing and Department of Energy representatives in addition to retired "Engineer Bill" who shared his stories and knowledge from his days working at Rocketdyne. The only thing I didnt like about the tour is that photos were not allowed so I unfortunately dont have anything to share from the tour. The first significant stop we made on the tour was visiting two of the three remaining Alfa test stands on Alfa Road. This was truly an amazing site to behold to be standing in front of the last pieces of Rocket testing history where thousands of tests were conducted for the Apollo Moon and other space missions.
The Alfa test stands still remain. Image courtesy Bing Maps.
The next site we visited was the Energy Technology Engineering Center owned by NASA which is also the location of the infamous Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) meltdown. Most of this site was completely torn down but some buildings still remain as part of the cleanup efforts which are currently awaiting environmental review before any removal continues. The SRE site is completely removed which I believe the removal happened a long time ago as a result of the meltdown and is currently undergoing groundwater cleaning with stringent sampling requirements. I am almost think this location might be the safest part of the entire Rocketdyne site because it faces so much scrutiny today.

The Energy Technology Engineering Center slowly being razed with some buildings still remaining awaiting environmental review. At the very top right corner is the location of SRE which is covered in a black tarp to prevent rainfall from entering the ground. 
The last significant site we visited was the Coca test stands on Coca Road which still remain today awaiting the same environmental review before they are completely removed. These test stands are so massive and  any pictures or videos will not do justice in showing the enormity and scale of the stands which need to be viewed in person.
The Coca test stands remain which are massive. Image courtesy Bing Maps.
The rest of the tour was essentially viewing parts of the old Rocketdyne that are no longer present, buildings that had been removed already and currently experiencing groundwater cleanup. The only new facilities to go up were the groundwater cleanup equipment and supporting structures.

Much of Rocketdyne actually looks like a state park with grass, brushes, animals, flowers, trees, etc. Very little of the industrial buildings, contamination (from the naked eye), test stands, concrete foundations, etc remain which I applaud Boeing, NASA, and the DOE for the efforts in cleaning up. However, and this will sound contradictory, it would be nice to save some of the old test stands as memorials to our past and the men and women who worked on the site as well as those in Space. I dont know if its possible to remove all contamination to beautify this last piece of undeveloped land in the SFV and keep the aged, rusted, and exposed (in some fashion) test stands.

A calendar, bag, and various articles in a folder given by the Boeing company  for attending the tour. Thanks Boeing.!
For those interested in the tours and I highly recommend them as I believe one day, nothing of the old Rocketdyne site will remain and if you are a die hard fan of engineering, Rocketdyne, the Apollo missions, NASA, etc., then you need to go on one of these tours. To sign up for the next tour, visit the Boeing site which has the upcoming tours in 2013:
  • Bus tour on September 21 9am - 12pm & 1 - 4 PM
  • Walking tour October 5 (moderate) and November 2nd (strenuous)








On a somewhat related note, as the tour was nearing its end, I saw a rocket shaped monkey bar at the Rocketdyne facility laying down on its side that I recalled being located at the Boeing Fitness center (shown in the pictures above and below) located at 8500 Fallbrook Ave bordering the Howard Hughes Center and the Chatworth Reservoir. So I visited the Boeing Fitness Center after the tour to confirm if the rocket shaped monkey bars were in fact removed. 

This location was used by Rocketdyne employees and family for various recreation activities and events which contains 4 tennis courts, 3 swimming pools, 2 sand volleyball courts, fitness center, an auditorium with capacity for 225 persons, and large areas of open land which is home to the Aerospace Retirees club, Local UAW union meetings, and fitness classes for seniors. The multiple acre park is a historic landmark for this community that was bought from the original estate landowner in 1959. As of October 2, 2010, this site is closed and I am not sure of the future plans. As is typical with anything in the SFV, this location would be completely razed down and turned into a giant mixed use site consisting of apartments, condos, and shops. Hopefully, this is not the situation and this beautiful multi-acre park can remain as is and available to the public. 

Going back to the monkey bars, they were removed but they can be viewed in the photos below thanks to Bing and Google Maps. 

You can see the rocket shaped monkey bars at the middle left near 'r' in Fallbrook. Above image courtesy Bing Maps.
Above image courtesy Bing Maps.
You can see the rocket shaped monkey bars at the bottom near 'a' in Fallbrook. Above image courtesy Bing Maps.
The rocket shaped monkey bars courtesy Google Street View.
The rocket shaped monkey bars courtesy Google Street View.
Lastly, I concluded my tour eating a burger and fries from the Munch Box with its jet age overhang appearance located in Chatsworth which received its HCM status (#750) on June 3, 2003.



You can view more SFV history here.

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

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