In November 1960, President John F. Kennedy announced to the world that the United States had chosen to send a man to the Moon within ten years (not because it was easy, but because it was hard). The US had already orbited the Earth with Projects Mercury and Gemini, but leaving Earth orbit would require much more power than was provided by the earlier Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets. Built specifically for the Apollo missions, the mighty Saturn V Heavy Lift Vehicle was the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever to achieve operational status. Here are a few fascinating facts from NASA about the extraordinary Saturn V.
- When all three stages were put together, the Saturn V stood 363 feet tall, 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled, it weighed 6.2 million pounds, about as much as 476 African elephants. That doesn’t seem like very many elephants, but an adult African elephant weighs about 13,000 pounds.
- When it was launched, the Saturn V produced 34.5 million newtons of thrust. To the layman, that equates to about 7.6 million pounds, generating more energy than 85 Hoover Dams. If you have a car that gets 30 miles to the gallon, the amount of energy in a Saturn V would take your car around the Earth 800 times on a single tank.
- Getting to the Moon takes a lot of fuel, and that fuel weighs a lot. You also have to figure in the weight of the survival gear, the Command, Lunar and Service Modules, and other bits for the humans to ride in. The Saturn V could launch a total of 260,000 pounds (130 tons) into Earth orbit, or 100,000 pounds (50 tons) into Lunar orbit. The greatest load ever lifted into low Earth orbit (LEO) by a Saturn V was 310,000 (155 tons).
- The first launch of the Saturn V took place on November 9, 1967 with the unmanned Apollo 4. The Saturn V was used throughout the Apollo program, and was also used to place the Skylab space station into orbit. A total of 15 rockets were built, and 13 were flown. The final launch with Skylab took place on May 14, 1973. From 1968-1972, 24 astronauts went to the moon atop a Saturn V, with three of them making two trips.
- The total cost of the Saturn V project was $6.4 billion, or about $185 million per launch. Of that, $110 million was for the Saturn V alone. In today’s dollars, the Saturn V project would cost about $38 billion.
Today, NASA is committed to returning to the Moon, and has plans to eventually put an astronaut on Mars. Tests of the Orion space vehicle were launched with a Delta IV Heavy rocket, one which is still less powerful than the Saturn V. But future missions, including a trip to Mars, will require even more power. For that, NASA is currently working on the Space Launch System, which will eclipse the Saturn V to become the most powerful rocket ever built and create a new class of super heavy-lift launch vehicles.
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