REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Huntsville/Madison County community and all of the Tennessee Valley celebrated the 50th anniversary of Cummings Research Park on Oct. 15-16.

And Team Redstone was right there with them.

The Army and NASA had front row seats as participants in the celebration of the nation's second largest research park. Both have been instrumental in the beginnings of Cummings Research Park as well as its growth over the years.

"Cummings Research Park was actually opened to support the programs at Redstone Arsenal," John Southerland, director of Cummings Research Park, said.

"The Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the Army Ordnance Missile Command were all part of those early years. When Dr. Wernher von Braun and the German rocket team came here with the nation's missile defense program and then started the nation's space program here, that started the need for a research park."

Several events were organized to recognize the park's 50th anniversary, including a Proclamation Signing, a luncheon featuring a presentation by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, and an equipment fair and outdoor concert at Bridge Street Town Centre that featured a HIMARS, Javelin Simulator, Scud Launcher, Scud Cutaway and Manpads Simulator, among other military hardware. The Aviation and Missile Command, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, Redstone Test Center and the Missile and Space Intelligence Center are among the Army organizations slated to participate in the event.

The anniversary was also recognized at a 2012 Technology Summit Luncheon beginning at the Jackson Conference Center. The Technology Summit and its luncheon are designed to facilitate partnerships between federal organizations, contractors and commercial businesses focused on emerging technologies in the Tennessee Valley. The keynote speaker was Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Cummings Research Park opened in 1962, and was developed for industry and academia in support of the aerospace and defense missions of Redstone Arsenal.

"Ever since the rocket team in Huntsville provided the rocket technology to launch Explorer I and the world's space race, it was obvious that Huntsville was going to play a central role in the development of the nation's rockets and missiles," Southerland said.

"To support that work, von Braun had a vision and the leaders of Huntsville were part of that vision. They knew the way to support the challenge of taking man to the moon was through a research park where private industry could grow technology."

The University of Alabama-Huntsville opened in 1950 on land that would eventually be incorporated into Cummings Research Park and would make the university the park's first tenant. The university's role as a high-tech powerhouse in support of Army and NASA technology needs began in 1961 when von Braun requested funds from the Alabama Legislature for the university's research institute.

In 1962, when the research park was established, UAH and then Brown Engineering were the foundation of the new technology neighborhood. The UAH Foundation was instrumental in buying land for the park, and then "populating that land with companies designed to help the national space program," Southerland said.

"Cummings Research Park is intertwined with both the beginnings of NASA and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency."

Today, Cummings Research Park is home to 300 companies and 25,000 employees who work primarily in support of the defense and aerospace industry. It is the second largest research park in the world, only surpassed by Research Triangle in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in terms of land size and number of employees. Cummings Research Park is the largest such park in the world in terms of the number of companies in residence.

Together, Cummings Research Park and Redstone Arsenal are home to 60,000 employees working in high-tech defense and aerospace industries.

"As the Army's presence has grown, so, too has the park. The technology in the park has really changed the world. It started as a park focused more on aerospace than defense. Today, it is a park more focused on defense than aerospace," Southerland said. "It does have some diversity in terms of telecommunications and computer science companies.

"But its history will always have it as the fine tipping point operating in support of the national space program and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Today 85 percent of the nation's missile defense work force is here at Redstone."

Fifty years of history for Cummings Research Park also represents 50 years of economic growth for Huntsville and the entire North Alabama region.

"Our economic drivers are Redstone Arsenal and then Cummings Research Park," Southerland said. "Cummings Research Park is tied to Redstone Arsenal and together they are fuel for a huge economic engine. The vision of von Braun and others like (business leaders) Milton Cummings and Joe Moquin brought us to this 50th anniversary, and every single day that vision is the fuel that drives the economy of all of North Alabama."