‘Some people said it wouldn’t happen. I knew better.’


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The nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing this month, Seventy-nine-year-old Al Ybarra has special pride in that mission. He and his fellow UAW members at Local 887 built the rocket engines that propelled the ship to the moon and back and constructed the module compartment where the pilots sat. Ybarra started working on research and development of the ship’s F1 and J2 engines in 1961 at Rocketdyne when he hired into North American Rockwell in California. Eventually, Rockwell’s other divisions, along with Rocketdyne, finished testing and constructing the five F1’s, five J2’s, one module engine and the crew capsule in 1969 in time for the launch. 

Local 887 member works on rocket engine at Rockwell in California in the 1960s.

It was a massive undertaking by the nearly 30,000 Local 887 members. Once the equipment was ready, it was delivered by ship and special planes to the launch site. The rest is history. 

“We put manifolds and heat exchangers on the engines that were 30 to 40 feet high, would put parts on and take them off, redo them. All of us that worked on it felt confident. Many of us were from the military and had discipline, dedication and a lot of pride in what we do,” said Ybarra, who went on to hold many leadership positions in Local 887, state union organizations and as an International Representative for the UAW. 

“The Apollo 11 mission was an amazing feat,” he added. “Even though some people said it wouldn’t happen, I knew better.”

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