This Week in NASA History: First Launch of Saturn V – Nov. 9, 1967



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This week in 1967, the Apollo 4 mission launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The mission marked the first launch of the Saturn V rocket. Mission objectives included testing of structural integrity, compatibility of rocket and spacecraft, heat shield and thermal seal integrity, overall reentry operations, launch loads and dynamic characteristics, stage separation, rocket subsystems, the emergency detection system and mission support facilities and operations. All mission objectives were achieved. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center designed, developed and managed the production of the Saturn family of rockets that took astronauts to the Moon. Today, Marshall is developing NASA’s Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of sending astronauts to the Moon, Mars and deeper into space than ever before. The NASA History Program is responsible for generating, disseminating and preserving NASA’s remarkable history and providing a comprehensive understanding of the institutional, cultural, social, political, economic, technological and scientific aspects of NASA’s activities in aeronautics and space. For more pictures like this one and to connect to NASA’s history, visit the Marshall History Program’s webpage. (NASA)

Last Updated: Nov. 7, 2019

Editor: Lee Mohon

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Joel O'Bryan
November 8, 2019 10:24 pm

We must never forget White, Chaffee, and Grisssom.
Good men. Brave men. Pioneers.
What they sacrificed allowed Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins to find success.
RIP: Jan. 27, 1967

The West beat the pants off the Russians to the Moon.
Don’t let AppleTV or any F’d up history with their junk shit revisions ever try to diss that.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 9, 2019 1:45 am

comment image

God Bless these heros.

They paved the way for everything that came next in NASA’s ’69-’72 Apollo years.
We talk about the names we know but so frequently forget the names of those whose shoulders they stood on.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 9, 2019 7:57 am

thanks for the reminder. To be honest I’d never even heard their names. History quickly forgets fallen heroes.

Rather sad, even for a non American, to look back on a time when NASA meant something more than faked data and USA was something much of the world aspired to copy.

Reply to  Greg
November 9, 2019 10:45 am

It’s not history that forgets them. It’s the media that forgets them.
Truth be told the media hates heroes.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Greg
November 9, 2019 12:44 pm

Grissom became the first man to fly in space twice when he commanded the successful Gemini 3 mission, which demonstrated the ability to alter orbit parameters, changing both shape and orbital plane.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 9, 2019 5:35 am

The United States did beat the Soviet Union to the moon, even after trailing Ivan at every single point until Apollo 10 [sic].

The matchup was not in our favor. The Soviets had far superior engine design to our own, as even today, the NK-33 is used on the Antares rocket, made by Orbital ATK (Northrup Grumman).

Our lucky break came with the death of Sergei Korolev, the heart and soul of the Soviet Space Program, in 1966. With his passing, the Soviet edge quickly faded. Their N1 rocket was superior to our own Saturn V on paper, but lax testing by men far inferior to Korolev doomed it to repeated and catastrophic failure. One of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history goes to an N1 launch anomaly on July 3, 1969.

Reply to  Patrick
November 9, 2019 8:48 am

Northrop is the aerospace company.
“Northrup” is an agricultural company.

Reply to  Rocketscientist
November 9, 2019 9:03 am

Spellcheck strikes again!

Reply to  Patrick
November 9, 2019 8:54 am

BTW for the Apollo missions:
Northrop made the launch abort escape system (rocket spire on the tip) as well as the landing recovery parachute system.
Grumman Aircraft designed and built the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) which was later just called LM.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 9, 2019 1:43 pm

One of my duties as a physics student college intern working on the Apollo Program was to run a densitometer to evaluate bone decalcification due to weightlessness and diet and inactivity in space. I scanned x-rays of the wrists and ankles of the astronauts to establish a baseline to which future x-rays would be compared following trips into space.

I was working on the files for White, Chaffee, and Grisssom on January 27, 1967 when my supervisor showed up at the lab and told me to stop and bundle up everything and wait for government officials to pick up all the files. I asked what I had done wrong and was I fired. He shook his head and told me that I was not in any trouble. He told me of the accident and that the three astronauts had been killed. It struck me the way the loss of family members does. At that time, we felt that we WERE the NASA family.

November 8, 2019 10:30 pm

Remarkable that the USA was able to get the Saturn V up and running in such a relatively short time. And given that it made a noticeable mark on US GDP, its likely that it spawned more than a few good jobs. Maybe if NASA spent less time on CC these days, we would be seeing more than artists renderings of the projected new launch system ? Not to mention getting a measure of perspective with which to view St Elons not so great products.

Reply to  Fanakapan
November 9, 2019 7:02 am

With the Space Race over, NASA did as all bureaucracy does. The Shuttle Program, for all it’s advances and virtues, was a boondoggle of enormous proportions. Even if we diverted money from CAGW, NASA would just burn more cash on something of highly questionable value, like an aerospike.

If you want a measure of perspective with SpaceX, just refer to Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to SpaceX’s Dragon 2 by development cost, development timeframe, and cost per launch. For bigger projects on the horizon, compare the SLS with the Starship.

For all his failings with Tesla, Elon isn’t half bad at making and innovating improvements in rocketry. If he can make Starlink a better choice than my crappy cable internet, then all the better.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Fanakapan
November 9, 2019 11:38 am

A total of 2,978 days elapsed between President Kennedy’s challenge to Congress on May 25, 1961 (where he set forth the challenge of the moon landing) to the lunar touchdown of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

The Space Launch System (aka SLS, aka Senate Launch System, aka The Rocket to Nowhere) was arguably initiated on October 11, 2010, with the passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. First flight will not take place before 2021. Let’s say it happens on January 1, 2021. A total of 3,735 days will have elapsed between program start and first flight. It’s a good thing we’re so much smarter today than we were back in the 1960s…

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 9, 2019 1:52 pm

The Lead for the Apollo team to which I was assigned as a college intern was 29 years old and had 3 PhDs….don’t tell anybody, but she was a …..”girl.”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 10, 2019 5:49 am

“Senate Launch System”

I like that description! 🙂

November 9, 2019 1:20 am

Yes it was a remarkable happening. But despite the CO2 emitted each
launch, no mention of that by the usual suspects.

But they the CC people do seem to have crept into NASA, although they
would say that they are only studying the third rock from the Sun.


Reply to  Michael
November 9, 2019 7:44 am

I thought the Saturn V used liquid oxygen and hydrogen. That would produce water not CO2.
Of course a lot of CO2 was generated in order to make the liquid oxygen and hydrogren.

Reply to  MarkW
November 9, 2019 9:02 am

The first stage used RP-1, a refined variety of kerosene.

Reply to  MarkW
November 9, 2019 9:06 am

I thought the Saturn V used liquid oxygen and hydrogen. That would produce water not CO2.

Depends on the stage: RP (purified kerosene and LOX in the lower stage(s)), LOX and liquid H2 in the upper stages.)
But as Saturn “grew” from Saturn I, Saturn II, Saturn IIB towards Saturn V, and as different stages were tested in different arrangements, a lower stage in one version becomes the upper stage on a future (larger) rocket. The liquid hydrogen rocket engines were not ready at the beginning of the program, but were just being developed for the Centaur engines.

Ron Long
November 9, 2019 2:02 am

Thanks, CTM. When you have a chance everyone should visit the Kennedy Space Center, ie Cape Canaveral, and see these two things in order: take the bus tour of launching pads and stop at the Saturn V exhibit (they have an entire Saturn V laid out sideways and it is more impressive than you can imagine) and then end the visit with the Space Shuttle exhibit. If you are vacationing in Orlando, Florida, it is a one hour drive east to the coast to Cape Canaveral, and it takes 4 or 5 hours to tour the exhibits. The Saturn V is still the most powerful machine constructed by humans.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 9, 2019 3:34 am

Johnson Space Center in Houston is another good place to go. They also have a Saturn V (the only complete one that was actually intended to fly). And yes, it is very impressive to see.

Reply to  SMC
November 9, 2019 7:45 am

They have one in Huntsville as well. That was the one they used for shake tests. It’s complete, but it was never intended to fly.

Reply to  MarkW
November 12, 2019 2:19 pm

Indeed they do. They also had one just south of the TN-AL border at the rest center there. I am not sure it is still there. It is impressive to look at it close up.

Reply to  Ron Long
November 9, 2019 9:02 am

I have visited KSC, and I was appalled at the amount of misinformation the tour guides were passing off. About half way through the tour, the other visitors were asking me questions.
I’ve spent far to much time in Huntsville than I cared to. 🙂

Ron Long
Reply to  Rocketscientist
November 9, 2019 4:54 pm

Rocketscientist, thanks for the explanation for your handle. When I was on the KSC tour the only thing they pointed out were the alligators in the ponds.

November 9, 2019 2:13 am

Coincidentally this trucker was down in Huntsville, AL this week and drove by the Space Center with it’s replica Saturn V outside.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  rah
November 9, 2019 6:44 am

I was awed by that rocket exhibit, and by other rockets inside Redstone Arsenal while I was stationed there in 1971.


November 9, 2019 2:15 am

I forgot to mention I also had a pickup on Exeter Dr. in Akron, OH right next to where Goodyear has one of those huge blimp hangers.

Tom in Florida
November 9, 2019 4:56 am

I had the good fortune to see Apollo 12 & 13 launch in person while at Florida Inst of Tech in Melbourne.
Those were to most awesome man made things I have ever witnessed. And to this day, I still insist I saw Apollo 13 get struck by lightning when it went through the low cloud cover right after launch.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
November 9, 2019 9:07 am

Awesome in the truest definition.
I have only witnessed recent launches, of much smaller LVs. And even with those you can feel it in your bones.
As I’ve said often, “Rocket science is easy. Rocket Engineering is a bitch!”
Exactly how you make a machine which accomplishes those tasks is far harder than merely calculating a trajectory.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Tom in Florida
November 9, 2019 10:25 am

My first Saturn V was Apollo 14. I was still in high school. But I, too, went to F.I.T. for my first two years of college, and watched Apollo 17 from the Industrial Park at the Cape, and the Skylab Workshop launch from the edge of the crawler track in front of the VAB. From that vantage point, three miles from the pad, the Saturn V didn’t look all that big. But it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. Along with the roar was a continuous string of “bangs” like you’d hear at the finale of a big fireworks show – only these were so strong it felt like someone was hammering on my chest with his fists. I glanced back at the VAB at one point, and could see 500 foot tall standing waves of condensation as the low frequency sound waves reflected from the building formed interference fringes in the humid air. I shouted at a friend standing right next to me to look at it, but he couldn’t hear me. It was the single most impressive experience of my life, and I’ve had a lot of impressive experiences.

BTW, it was Apollo 12 that got struck by lightning (twice), not 13. But I don’t doubt that you saw the strikes. They were quite spectacular. That incident, plus a much later lightning strike on an Atlas Centaur sitting on the pad, changed all of the weather rules and precautions for preflight processing and launch commit.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 9, 2019 2:36 pm

Thanks, I reviewed both launches again and yes, it was 12 that went through the rain and cloud cover.
For many years I thought it was 13. Perhaps my age is catching up with me. Now what was the question again?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 10, 2019 6:03 am

There is a good article in a recent Astronomy magazine issue that describes Apollo 12. Apollo 12 was struck by lightning as it was lifting off from the launchpad and then was struck a second time at a higher altitude. The lightning strikes discombobulated the Command Modules electrical systems, but the Saturn V rocket just kept plubbing along, doing its job.

It so happened that NASA had practiced recovering from a lightning strike but they had only done it once I believe, and one of the few people who participated in the simulation was one of the astronauts on board Apollo 12. He (I’d have to get the magazine to tell you which one) and a controller on the ground who also had studied this problem got their heads together and figured out how to reset all their controls, and it worked, and after they arrived in low-Earth orbit, they checked all their systems and decided they could continue on to the Moon. All three Apollo 12 astronauts have since passed away. God Bless them all. They were some of the best of the best and an inspiration to us all.

Apollo 12’s upper stage is still in orbit.

November 9, 2019 5:43 am

Is “emergency detection system” supposed to be “emergency ejection system?” It seems like an emergency wouldn’t need to be detected, it would be pretty oblivious. On the other hand, it would be a good idea to test the ejection system.

Coach Springer
Reply to  Scissor
November 9, 2019 6:13 am


Bob Smith
Reply to  Scissor
November 9, 2019 6:38 am

Testing the emergency ejection system would not have let the full ascent to orbit occur. Testing the emergency detection system may only have involved verifying that special anomaly sensors were operating and that the associated com systems and onboard software were working properly.

Reply to  Scissor
November 9, 2019 7:18 am

When sitting on millions of pounds of explosives, detecting an emergency quickly enough to not die isn’t a trivial matter either.

Reply to  Scissor
November 9, 2019 3:49 pm

No, it was just to detect problems that might require the crew to abort. If I remember correctly, early in the flight it would automatically trigger an abort, but later on it would let the crew decide as there was more time to make a manual judgement.

There were certain kinds of failure which could otherwise destroy the vehicle before the crew would have time to react.

Bob Smith
November 9, 2019 6:39 am

Testing the emergency ejection system would not have let the full ascent to orbit occur. Testing the emergency detection system may only have involved verifying that special anomaly sensors were operating and that the associated com systems and onboard software were working properly.

November 9, 2019 7:48 am

I watched it live on the tube, I was 15. I remember it like yesterday, slow rise until that monster got moving. Awesome.

November 9, 2019 9:02 am

I think I can top all of you. When I was at U of FL in 1972, I drove to the cape, got as close as the public was allowed, and watched the night launch of Apollo 17. The word ‘Awesome’ just doesn’t do it justice. I think my first words were, “Holy Sh**,” before the shockwave in the air hit, followed by the ground shaking. I took an 8 mm movie of it using a handheld Kodak camera. I would give a body part to find that film, today.

Those who are convinced everything was faked have their heads shoved up a very dark place.

Reply to  jtom
November 9, 2019 9:27 am

I saw the launch of Pioneer 2 in 1978 from about 30 miles away in Indian Harbor Beach. It was a night launch. Even though it was “only” an Atlas SLV-3D Centaur, it lit up the night sky. Then about 2 minutes after the launch, is sounded and felt like a freight train was rolling past my sister’s house.

November 9, 2019 10:38 am

Watched this on TV. (was in high school at the time)

Remember Walter Cronkite’s description of this launch.
He was in a broadcast both with Wally Schirra(?) and the both started shaking.

They had to hold the large viewing window in place due to vibrations.

November 9, 2019 1:45 pm

Simple test here.

For all highly learned and educated and zealots of rocket engineering and rocket science.

Try to figure out and explain why SpaceX of Musk had to attempt and land one of their objects on a barge in the sea.. in their attempt of landing some of their space faring equipment objects on the surface of Earth simply by relying in buster power and buster highly computerized maneuvering.

See, SpaceX did not ever land an object in the Moon, NASA “did”.
But still NASA no anywhere close to attempt such as the SpaceX did and successfully achieved… not clearly in public view, at least.

That barge landing, quite a strange thing to attempt…. try to figure it out boys.
On my understanding, that happens to be a brilliant and a top clever solution employed and attempted by the SpaceX dudes there… quite the best thing under the circumstances, ever considered thus far,
and it, the landing was successful, even when not fully completed… a proper genius.

No any object landing on Earth from the orbit, ever did manage to do successfully outside the aerodynamics clause there.

The ratio of energy for escape velocity versus the ratio of energy for reentry velocity quite a significant negative value in consideration of escape velocity versus reentry velocity as per NASA space faring.

And the stall velocity quite a bad ugly and a very very nasty condition to deal with outside the means of aerodynamics… as yet to this point in time… especially in consideration of NASA.

Oh, well, let see…


Reply to  whiten
November 9, 2019 3:54 pm

NASA looked at various methods of reusing Saturn stages, from simple heatshields and parachutes (the first thing that SpaceX tried) to having a crew on board to fly them back or catching them with an enormous helicopter. But the cost of developing reusability only makes sense if you’re going to be launching lots (preferably at least hundreds) of times, and none of the Saturns did.

Reply to  MarkG
November 10, 2019 1:36 pm

November 9, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Yes, Mark,
“the cost of developing reusability only makes sense if you’re going to be launching lots”

The NASA methods suffer of that problem, due to limit usage and cost and cost efficiency,
But the SpaceX method and concept does not suffer at all to the limit of it’s application, in contrary it is very much appealing and quite cost efficient.

Helicopters or parachutes or any other aerodynamic method does not work in space or the Moon or in the absence of a atmosphere.

The SpaceX concept and that method shown to be applicable, offers a superb way to a very well controlled , high accuracy and precision and quite cost efficient on
achieving a very significant and “high” deceleration, outside the means of aerodynamics.

It could be applied in space, like in the case of reducing the entry or reentry velocity, considerably, or Moon landings, or any other landings.
Very excellent method in getting to a given required impact velocity, or landing velocity, or a low velocity atmospheric entry, in whatever environment.

The only time that NASA achieved a similar method concept application, successfully,
consist only with NASA Moon landings… some like a half century ago.

Thanks MarkG


November 9, 2019 5:13 pm

Veterans day coming up Monday. This trucker will be in Wisconsin doing a three stop run that day but I would like to share with you a definition of a military veteran. IMO the best definition of a military veteran is: A person that at some point in their life signed a blank check filled out to their fellow citizens for any amount up to and including their life.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  rah
November 10, 2019 6:16 am

Yes, we should have high praise for the members of the military and the military veterans, who along with law enforcement, are the only things standing between ourselves and the Dark Side of humanity and all the suffering that brings.

God Bless them All. We have your back.

Reply to  rah
November 12, 2019 2:27 pm

Indeed. This military brat in a multigenerational military family salutes you. I had excellent qualifying test scores; but failed the physical. I’d volunteer in a heartbeat if needed, even as old and sick as I am now. (It is still Armistice Day, to me … seeing and marching with my grandfather who served in The Great War, and faced combat.)

November 10, 2019 1:54 am

BTW Michael Collins give a great description of the difference in riding the Titian II and the Saturn V in his book
Bottom line is that the Saturn V was a much smoother ride than the Titan II.

I always thought the use of the phrase “launch vehicle” was a bit misleading. An attempt to soften the reality of what a rocket really is.

November 10, 2019 7:56 am

The US Army Corp of Engineers in their manufacturing in space report in 1950 or 51 suggested a space shuttle that would take off and land from a runway. The technology could not support it and the workable rocket was used to launch into space.

How fortunate for the US to have skilled scientists, engineers and technicians to launch skilled and brave former fighter pilots. And fortunate we got the German rocket scientists and some equipment and documentation.

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