Rocco Petrone, one of the pioneers of the Apollo program, died Aug. 24 at his home near Los Angeles from complications of heart disease and diabetes. He was 80.
Petrone, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, began his career in rocketry while in the Army, where he worked on Redstone, the United States’ first ballistic missile. In 1960 the Army loaned him to NASA to work as Saturn project officer at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
Petrone’s official NASA biography says he “was instrumental in the development of the Saturn launch facilities and equipment at KSC that were used to launch Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.” He became launch director at KSC, overseeing launches from July 1966 until September 1969.
He rose to become program director of Apollo, where he was known for his attention to detail and vigorous management style. In a Washington Post story written before the first Moon landing, Petrone was described as “a broad-shouldered tree of a man who in his line of work is treated with the same mixture of awe and respect football players give Vince Lombardi.”
In 1973, Petrone took the job of director of NASA’s Marshall Center in Huntsville, Ala. From there he moved to Washington to become NASA’s associate administrator. He left government one year later and went on to become a senior executive at Rockwell International. He retired from Rockwell in 1989.
In addition to his wife, Petrone is survived by a brother ; a half-brother ; and four children .