Coca I test standDenise Anne and I are getting ready to fire up the barbecue this Labor Day Weekend just like millions of other Americans. Chances are, though, most folks won’t be using the brand spanking new solar oven that my better half just got us.

The oven looks like something NASA would send to Neptune to prowl one of its moons like Triton, with impressive metallic flaps designed to capture nuclear power. The source is the biggest nuclear fusion reactor within 93 million miles, the Sun.

We’re all for nuclear power when it doesn’t meltdown, leave waste poisonous for thousands of years and is free. This oven heats just as hot as a conventional oven and about as fast, can’t burn the food, and is fume free which cuts down on volatile organic compounds when cooking carnitas and corn on the cob.

No doubt Denise Anne and I will crack open a couple of Coca Cola’s and look back at the 45 days since we fired up on July 22. One of the best things about v.2 is its photographic platform and what better way to celebrate than with an amazing photo of the Coca I test stand at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Our friend at NASA, Merrilee Fellows, kindly imparted this historic and gorgeous photograph to

The shot, with its intense rainbow sherbet-hued sky and starburst lights, shows where the Space Shuttle’s Main Engines were tested. Coca I, along with Coca II and Coca III, are in Area II of the lab that NASA controls. Coca is also part of RFI Group 4.

RFI groupings, or Resource Conservation Recovery Act Facility Investigations, are areas of the lab that are characterized for contamination. Once this work is completed, the lead agency for the cleanup of lab, California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, under the new leadership of DTSC Project Manager Rick Brausch, solicits public comment before final approval of each RFI’s work plan.

“Three test stands were initially constructed at the Coca area in 1956 to support the development of the Navaho and Atlas engines,” according to Rocketdyne Archives. “In 1963, two of the original stands were demolished and replaced by two large engine test stands for testing the second stage of the Saturn-V launch vehicle. In 1974, further test stand modifications were made to accommodate Space Shuttle main Engine component development. Later modifications enabled testing the SSME engine system. The Coca RFI Site, located within Area II of the SSFL, is owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was previously operated by the Rocketdyne division of Rockwell (Rocketdyne), on behalf of NASA, and the site is currently maintained by The Boeing Company (Boeing). Area II was undeveloped prior to 1954, when the land was purchased by North American Aviation (NAA), a predecessor company to Rockwell who owned the land from 1954 to 1958. In December 1958, the property was deeded from Rocketdyne to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and was operated as USAF Plant 57. In 1973, the property transferred ownership from the USAF to NASA, who currently owns the property.”

The Coca complex was involved with several missile programs including Navaho, Atlas, J-2, Saturn V second Stage Battleship (five J-2s), Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME), and Delta IV Expendable Launch Vehicle Tanks. COCA I was activated July 1956 and conducted 244 tests. COCA II was activated November 1956 and ignited 127 rocket firings while COCA III was activated the month before and completed 102 tests. A newly configured COCA I went online in 1963 and conducted 320 Tests. COCA IV came online the same year but its tests records are not available.

Within the 141-acre Group 4, which Coca Area shares with Delta Area and the Propellant Load Facility, there are a number of chemicals that Boeing and NASA are responsible for remediating. They include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including trichloroethylene or TCE, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals, and dioxins. One of the most dangerous and pervasive VOCs from rocket engine testing is trichloroethylene, or TCE. “Trichloroethylene was used extensively at SSFL to clean rocket engines, test stands, and other machinery from 1954 through 1993,” reported our cover story “Two Mile Island” in the July 22, 2004 edition of Los Angeles CityBeat:

“Before they thought to recycle the stuff, in 1962 for financial reasons, 1.73 million gallons slopped onto the ground and was sluiced into unlined troughs. A reported 520,000 gallons of it soaked into the groundwater and bedrock. DTSC data shows SSFL groundwater containing up to 79,000 parts per billion (ppb) of TCE, 15,800 times the EPA’s ‘maximum contaminant level’ of 5 ppb. The chemical affects the liver, kidneys, immune function, and fetal development – large doses may cause death.”

The current estimate of the amount of TCE in the lab’s groundwater is 800,000. Boeing’s onsite remediation capability of extracting the toxic vaporizing solvent is 10 gallons a year meaning that it would take 80,000 years to cleanse the water of TCE. The aerospace and defense manufacturing giant, however, turned off those so called “air-stripping” towers years ago.

As we reported in the “Two Mile Island” sidebar article “Blinded by the Light,” at the Coca and Delta test stands, TCE was detected up to 50,000 parts per billion (ppb). California’s Maximum Contaminant Level for TCE in drinking water is 5 ppb. Vinyl Chloride in vapor was found up to 2,000 ppb.

Now all this talk of toxins can make a person’s stomach start rumbling so if you’re wondering what we’re throwing on the sun oven barbecue; it’s the usual fare. It’s the dessert I’m looking forward to.

Denise Anne doesn’t call me Rocket Man for nothing.

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting

One Comment

  1. Shhhh don’t tell!

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