listic missiles. In 1953, he participated in the launch of the Redstone missile, the first U.S. ballistic missile. He participated in subsequent launches of the Redstone missile, Jupiter missile, Pershing missile, and Jupiter C and Juno space launch vehicles.
In 1960, still on active duty in the U.S. Army, he was appointed manager of that part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Saturn Program assigned to the Kennedy Space Center. When the Apollo Lunar Landing Program was established with the goal of landing men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth, Rocco was responsible for the planning, development, and activation of all launch facilities, including Launch Complex 39, where the Apollo/Saturn V vehicles were launched. The complex included the Vehicle Assembly Building, the launch towers, and the 3,000-ton Saturn V Crawler-Transporter, which transported the stacked Saturn V from the Assembly Building to the launch pad about three miles away.
In 1966, Rocco retired from the army and was employed immediately by NASA as director of launch operations, Kennedy Space Center, where he was responsible for the management and technical direction of pre-flight operations and systems integration, testing, checkout, and launch of all space vehicles. He personally directed the launches of the first five crewed Apollo vehicles, culminating with Apollo 11, which landed two crew members on the moon.
In 1969, Rocco was named Apollo program director, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. He served in that capacity until 1973 when he was appointed director of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), where he presided over the participation of MSFC in the three Skylab missions, America’s first space station. He directed a remarkable recovery after the critical loss of the Skylab heat shield on its first mission. He also oversaw the downsizing of MSFC in preparation for MSFC’s changing roles in the late 1970s. In 1974, Rocco was appointed associate administrator of NASA and technical director of all of NASA’s aeronautical and space programs. He also had overall responsibility for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program, a joint venture by the United States and the Soviet Union.