Since 1942, scientists, engineers, and production workers have been at work in McGregor, Texas, helping win wars, achieve spaceflights, and work towards lunar missions. In its early years, the McGregor facility was home to Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant, established in 1942 by the US Department of Defense (US Army Ordnance Corps) to help build bombs for the war effort. While ordnance-only manufacturing ceased at the end of World War II, the well-used plant in McGregor was destined to serve the nation once again. In 1952, the US Air Force acquired the property, naming it AF Plant 66, and the Rocket Fuels Division of Phillips Petroleum Company (PPC) operated the plant until 1958. In 1959, North American Aviation (NAA) bought PPC’s share, and that year Rocketdyne Solid Propulsion Operations took over the rocket-fuel testing and engineering facility at the McGregor site, operating until 1978.
As a large company with production facilities besides the McGregor plant, Rocketdyne emerged during a time of rapid change and technological development. After World War II, the US Defense Department contracted with NAA to begin researching Germany’s V-2 rocket and sought to adapt its burners and fuel systems to match US standards. Each of Rocketdyne’s four facilities (located in Canoga Park, California, as well as in Nevada, Missouri, and Texas) had distinct functions and contributed heavily to the US space program and Department of Defense. Their main focus was chemical propulsion in solid, liquid, and hybrid propelled rocket motors and engines.
Most notably, Rocketdyne was a supplier of rocket engines to NASA. By about 1960, the McGregor facility could test “small-scale rocket motors” with up to 5,000 pounds of thrust and 5,000 pounds of propellant at the facility’s multiple firing bays. Additionally, the facility could produce jet-assisted takeoff rockets for the US Air Force. McGregor and Canoga Park coordinated closely in their research and engineering and in 1966 were using “remote terminals used by engineers consisting of 35 teletypewriters transmitting programs and data over leased lines connecting McGregor, TX, to the main Rocketdyne computer in Canoga Park, CA.” By the late 1960s, the McGregor plant had produced over 250,000 rocket motors and thousands of gas generators and igniters.
The rockets produced at the facility would eventually contribute to the creation of the Saturn V rocket used in NASA’s Apollo Missions. This massive launch vehicle for Apollo 11 totaled over eighty rocket engines used in various stages to propel astronauts into space orbit and then to the moon. The first stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle that carried the Apollo 11 crew included five Rocketdyne F-1 rocket engines producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust and burning 42,500 gallons of fuel per minute. Saturn V also included six Rocketdyne-made J-2 engines powering the second and third stages. The Saturn V rocket was used a total of thirteen times with ten missions and even launched NASA’s first space station, Skylab, into space in 1973.
Throughout the years and through various operators, countless scientists, engineers, and production workers have called Central Texas home in order to work in the McGregor facility. With the SpaceX acquisition of some of this property in 2002-2003, rocket testing is still done here at the former Bluebonnet Plant, and it has stood the test of time adding to the rich history of Central Texas.