Watch: CEO of Alabama rocket maker reflects on Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary
While United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno now sits at the summit of the space industry, spearheading the manufacturing juggernaut that makes rockets in Decatur, his journey began a half-century ago with one thing: a child’s dream.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Bruno discussed the path he took to get to this point, with his life story singing out as an encapsulation of the “American Dream.”
It all started with the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, with Bruno reflecting on the 50th anniversary of him being a little boy in rural California and being fixated to the TV, watching the landing starry-eyed at a neighbor’s ranch, as if it were yesterday.
“It was magical,” he told Fox News. “The neighbors had the biggest TV set, so we were all there – all the kids were there, all the adults were there. Everybody just held their breath, it was the most exciting thing to be participating in.”
The landing’s anniversary is on Saturday, July 20.
However, the majesty of that moment was even surpassed by the launch a few days earlier on July 16, Bruno said.
“It was the most incredible thing that I had ever seen – the power, the complexity,” he emphasized. “I thought that it was the most ultimate scientific marvel when I saw that thing go – I still think that, all these years later.”
Inspired by the historic mission, it was not long before Bruno was building his own makeshift rockets, a precursor to his storied career.
“Maybe the following summer, I was still obsessed with rockets, that’s when I built my first one,” he explained.
Using 80-year-old dynamite and old wrought iron bars he found at the back of his family’s farm, an eight-year-old Bruno set about assembling the dangerous projectiles.
Bruno quipped, “I am proud to tell you that some of my rockets made it some of the way off the ground before detonating and I lived to tell the story!”
A former general manager of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Bruno became CEO of ULA in 2014. Now, the work done by Bruno and his company on a daily basis in North Alabama is helping pave the way for the next generation of space fanatics and rocket scientists, one dream at a time.
ULA is integrally involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which will take American astronauts back into space on missions launched from U.S. soil via ULA’s Atlas V rocket rather than a previously used Russian-made spacecraft.
“Human spaceflight can inspire the public and inspire scientists in a way that no other activity can, and humans can do things in space relative to research and relative to coping with surprises and discoveries that robotic exploration cannot,” Bruno stressed. “And it means so much to us to have human spaceflight [launch] from American soil. Returning Americans to space — I cannot begin to tell you what that means to myself and my team.”
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Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn