Dorris Sena of Aldrich doesn’t usually tell people in Polk County that she helped build engines for the Atlas rocket family in the late 1950s to early 1960s. But she said every time she sees something go up into space, she has her own little thoughts.
Sena was employed with Precision Sheet Metal Aircraft and Missile, a Los Angeles-based company contracted to build parts of Atlas missiles and space launchers around 1959.
As it turns out, Atlas missiles and space launchers served as the basis for early space exploration. An Atlas rocket launched the first U.S astronaut into orbit in 1962, seven years before U.S astronauts landed on the moon.
As the 50th anniversary of the moon landing approached, Sena reminisced on her career.
During an interview July 17, Sena pulled out a picture of an Apollo 11 model and pointed to the bottom section of the rocket’s engines.
The corrugated portions of Apollo 11’s engines in the picture were similar to what Sena worked on for Atlas rockets.
“I was the riveter — the one who shot the rivets,” Sena said, describing her role.
For Atlas’ engines, “there were stips of bars that came down inside each one of the corrugations. They had holes in them, and we drilled them,” she said.
“After we got the whole thing drilled out, we took it apart, cleaned all the chips out from drilling, put it back together, and that’s when we started riveting.”
With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 happening this week, Sena said her work on Atlas rockets makes her proud.
“When I saw the Apollo — and even just unmanned spacecraft missions — it brings back these memories,” Sena said, gesturing to her memorabilia. “It makes me think, ‘I worked on stuff like that.’”
Sena feels proud of her work because she eventually made history.
“It makes you feel like you have accomplished something in your life, even though you were just an everyday worker,” Sena added.
After PSM’s contract ended for Atlas rockets, Sena went on to work for North American Aviation and a slew of other jobs before settling down with her family in Aldrich in 1978.
Regarding the prospects of future space travel, Sena said it is still important to learn information in space.
“But personally, I wouldn’t want to go up there,” she joked.