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Home / Science / BBC – Future – Apollo in 50 numbers: The Rocket

BBC – Future – Apollo in 50 numbers: The Rocket

111: Height of the Saturn V rocket in meters

On July 16, 1969, JoAnn Morgan drove into the parking lot at Pad 39a, Cape Canaveral, to monitor the refueling of the giant Saturn V rocket. Against the darkness of the ocean, the spaceship was bathed in the light of xenon arc lamps and enveloped in clouds of oxygen escaping from the fuel tanks.

"It was an absolutely majestic sight," says Morgan. "I noticed in the parking lot and watched for a while because it was so beautiful."

With 36 floors, the Saturn V is one of the greatest technical and technical achievements of the 20th century. Its development was led by Wernher von Braun, who had already dreamed of building a rocket for Hitler's V2 missiles to bring people to the moon.

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"Not only was he technically competent," says Jay Honeycutt, a rocket engineer and later Senior Manager at NASA, "but he had great leadership and ability to communicate with government officials who financed the projects. "

Powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, the rocket consisted of several stages. The lowest part of the rocket ̵

1; or the first stage – was equipped with five huge F-1 engines. Two more stages – and a total of six other engines – put it into orbit. Above the engines were the compartment for the lunar lander and then the service and command module for the three-man crew. On the Saturn V was an escape missile, with which the command module should be brought to safety, if something should go wrong at the start.

"In my opinion, that thing really flew," says Honeycutt. "A few hundred meters high and then the little thing on the top of the top is all that came back – a pretty remarkable technical achievement."

The moon rocket could have been even bigger. NASA's original plan envisaged the development of a rocket called Nova. Equipped with eight F-1 engines, it would carry a larger, single spaceship that could land on the moon and then return to Earth.

2: Top speed of caterpillars in miles per hour

The Saturn Vs was assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a building so large that it even has its own weather system. The engineers then faced the challenge of bringing the rockets to the launch pad about five kilometers away. After a first suggestion to float the spaceship on barges, it was decided to build caterpillar transporters.

With eight tracked transporters driven by 16 electric motors powered by two generators, the tracked transports are more like ships than vehicles. And like ships, the drivers are part of a team of operators and engineers who bring the vehicles slowly onto the launch pad. Very slowly.

During Apollo it could take up to 16 hours for the spaceship to travel the few miles from the VAB to the launch pad.

"The crawler has the power to cover two miles an hour," says driver Sam Dove. "However, you really do not want to bring it to two, especially not with a load – we drive at most one."

Although a driver sits in the cabin, the heart of the crawler truck is a control room. "It's really the brain and the nerve center for the operators here," says Dove. "The test lead sets the second console from the end and controls everything on the crawler."

During Apollo, it could take up to 16 hours for the spacecraft to travel the few miles from the VAB to the Launchpad. The time from pad to orbit was only eight minutes.

( Learn more about the vehicles and their future here . )

35,000,000: Saturn V thrust when taking off in Newton

The Saturn V is the strongest rocket ever successfully flown.

"I felt we were on the tip of a needle, a very large needle," says Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, the first manned flight to the moon. "I felt like I was on the ride instead of having everything under control, and the sounds and vibrations gave you a feeling of tremendous power."

Apollo 8 is considered one of the most daring and riskiest missions in space history. In addition to Borman in the Apollo command module were Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, which gave the company only a 30 percent chance of success.

Seriously, the rocket began to pog and create forces on board that would most likely have killed any crew

The mission was viewed as such a risk because of the previous unmanned test of Saturn V – sometimes known as Apollo 6 – was not going well. "The test flight we flew just before [Apollo 8] was pretty much a disaster," says Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin. "Almost everything went wrong." Seriously, the rocket began to pog – create forces on board that would most likely have killed any crew. "We've also lost some fuel lines," adds Griffin, "and the upper-stage engine did not start."

Over the next eight months, Braun's missile team set about solving all problems before convincing NASA's management of Saturn V was now avid.

"It was courageous on the part of the program," says Griffin. "It was also brave on the part of the three guys who got in there and drove the first Saturn V."

5: Saturn V-upper stages on the moon

Only nine minutes into the race, the Saturn V had already dropped its first and second stages, plummeting them towards the Atlantic. The third stage (more confusingly known as S4B) with a single engine gave the spacecraft sufficient speed to reach orbit before it was shut down.

After one and a half turns of the earth, the crew let go of the engine of the S4B. In a maneuver called Trans Lunar Injection, the missile pushed the spaceship out of orbit toward the moon.

The farther the missions had progressed and the more levels they crashed, the more data came back.

The astronauts shut off the engine a second time, and after the lunar module was pulled out of the top of the housing, the rocket was launched. But – because it moved at the same speed and in the same direction as the spaceship – if the crew did not change the trajectory, the spent rocket followed them to the moon.

For the first Apollo missions, Nasa's solution was to send the S4B into orbit around the Sun. And still today, the S4B stages are orbiting the sun for Apollo 8, 9, 10 and 11. However, the upper level of Apollo 12 was recaptured by Earth's gravity.

Nasa developed a more ingenious plan for the remaining missions.

The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (Alsep) left by Apollo's lunar Apollo Apollo 12 included a seismometer that passed data to Earth. By taking the S4B steps into the Moon, geologists were able to track the resulting tremors through the lunar rocks to determine the geological composition.

The farther the missions had progressed and the more levels they crashed, the more data came back. The Alseps continued to return data until Nasa ended the program in 1977.

100: Percentage of cloud cover for the launch of Apollo 12

On November 14, 1969, four months after landing on the moon, Nasa landed on plan to do it again. Aboard Apollo 12: Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean.

There had been some rain on that day as a cold front moved over Central Florida, but meteorologists cleared the start and the countdown went off smoothly.

36 seconds after launch, the electrical systems in the command module failed as the Saturn V drove through the clouds.

The switch worked, the command module went online again.

"What the hell was that? Exclaimed Conrad.

This was Gerry Griffin's first shift as chief flight director, overseeing mission control.

"They had a warning and warning sign with lights that said what was wrong, and Conrad started reading it," Griffin says. "The whole panel basically lit up."

As the rocket continued towards orbit, Griffin sought a solution. "This young man from a small college in southeastern Oklahoma named John Aaron, who was probably 25 years old, called and said he should try SCE at Aux ."

Griffin had never heard of the counter, but he asked Capcom, Gerry Carr, to relay the message to the spacecraft. "Even Conrad had never heard of the counter, so he said 'SCE to Aux, what the hell is that?' But Al Bean knew where the switch was right in front of him."

The switch pressed the command module came online again. And when the lead computers were reset, the crew headed for the moon.

When the engineers later analyzed the launch, they discovered that the rocket had produced its own flash and that the exhaust formed a circle between charged particles in the clouds and the ground. Fortunately, the lightning had no effect on the missile's separate computer, which kept the spacecraft on track throughout the drama.

"It was really funny to listen to the crew afterwards," says Griffin. "They're giggling, it was like a near miss in a car … it was almost funny to orbit."

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