Tag Archives: Launch Complex 39A

20 May 1969

Apollo 11/Saturn V (AS-506) on the crawler transporter at Kennedy Space center, Cape Canaveral Florida, 20 May 1969. (NASA)
Apollo 11/Saturn V (AS-506) on one of the two crawler transporters at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 20 May 1969. (NASA)

20 May 1969: The Apollo 11 Saturn V (SA-506) “stack” was rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building aboard a Mobile Launch Platform, carried by a Crawler-Transporter, and moved to Launch Complex 39A. The rocket would be launched for the Moon at 13:32:00 UTC, 16 July 1969.

The two Crawler/Transporters are the world’s largest self-propelled land vehicles. They were designed and built by Marion Power Shovel Company, Marion, Ohio, and were assembled on Merritt Island. (The Crawlerway connected the island to mainland Florida, so that it now forms a peninsula.) They are 131 feet (39.9 meters) long and 113 feet  (34.4 meters) wide. The height is adjustable from 20 feet (6.1 meters) to 26 feet (7.9 meters). The load deck is 90 feet × 90 feet (27.4 × 27.4 meters). The transporters weigh 2,721 metric tons (3,000 tons).

A Crawler-Transporter carrying a Mobile Launch Platform. (NASA)

The Crawler/Transporters were powered by two 10,687.7-cubic-inch-displacement (175.1 liters) liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged, American Locomotive Company (ALCO) V-16 251C 45° sixteen-cylinder 4-cycle diesel engines. This engine produced 2,750 horsepower. The engines drive four 1,000 kilowatt electric generators. These in turn supply electricity to sixteen 375 horsepower traction motors.

Two 1,065 horsepower White-Superior eight-cylinder diesel engines provide electrical and hydraulic power to operate the crawlers’ systems. The hydraulic system operates at 5,200 p.s.i.

The maximum loaded speed is 0.9 miles per hour (1.4 kilometers per hour).

Since the time of the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, the Crawler-Transporters have been upgraded to handle the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rockets. The original ALCO locomotive engines have been replaced by two Cummins QSK95 16-cylinder diesel/C3000-series 1,500 kW power generation units. The new engine displaces 5,797 cubic inches and produces a maximum 4,200 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The QSK95 has 46% less displacement than the old ALCO, weighs 39% less, but produces 57% more horsepower. The generators also double the electrical output.

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, a Cummins power generation unit is lowered into a Crawler-Transporter. (NASA)

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB wou place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Saturn V SA-506 traveles the 3.5 mile "crawlerway" from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39A, 20 May 1969. (NASA)
Saturn V SA-506 travels the 3.5 mile “crawlerway” from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39A, 20 May 1969. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 April 1972, 02:23:35 UTC, T + 104:29:35

Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion at the Descartes Highlands.
Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion at the Descartes Highlands.

21 April 1972, 02:23:35 UTC: Lunar Module Orion (LM-11) touched down on the surface of the Moon at the Descartes Highlands. On board were the Mission Commander, Captain John Watts Young, United States Navy, and Lunar Module Pilot Lieutenant Colonel Charles M. Duke, Jr., United States Air Force. They were the ninth and tenth humans to stand on the Moon.

Technical problems delayed Orion‘s descent for three orbits. Lieutenant Commander Thomas K. (Ken) Mattingly II, U.S.N., the Command Module Pilot, remained in lunar orbit aboard Casper (CSM-113).

As they neared the surface they started to see dust blowing at about 80 feet (24 meters). The lunar module hovered briefly before continued downward.

104:29:22 Duke: Okay, 2 down. Stand by for contact. Come on, let her down. You leveled off. (Pause) Let her on down. Okay, 7. . . 6 percent [fuel remaining]. Plenty fat.

104:29:36 Duke: Contact! Stop. (Pause while they drop to the surface) Boom.

During a debriefing, John Young said, “When we got the Contact light, I counted ‘one-potato’ and shut the engine down. The thing fell out of the sky the last three feet. I know it did. I don’t know how much we were coming down, maybe a foot a second.”

Teh surface of the Moon as seen through the window of the Lunar Module, shortly after landing. (NASA)
The surface of the Moon as seen through the window of the Lunar Module, shortly after landing. (NASA)

Young and Duke remained on the surface for 2 days, 23 hours, 2 minutes, 12 seconds. During that time, they performed three EVAs totaling 20 hours, 14 minutes, 20 seconds. They drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 16.6 miles (26.7 kilometers).

Looking northeast at John Young with the LRV, 22 April 1972. (Charles M. Duke, Jr./NASA)
Looking northeast at John Young with the LRV, 22 April 1972. (Charles M. Duke, Jr./NASA)

A remote television camera was placed on the surface and captured color images of the Lunar Module Ascent Stage departing the Moon for lunar orbit at 01:25:47 UTC, 24 April 1972.

Ascent Stage launch, 01;25:47 UTC, 24 April 1972. (NASA)
Ascent Stage launch, 01:25:47 UTC, 24 April 1972. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 April 1981, 12:00:03 UTC, T minus Zero

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) launch from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, 07:00:03 11 April 1981. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) launch from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, 07:00:03 11 April 1981. (NASA)

11 April 1981, 12:00:03 UTC, T minus Zero: Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) lifted off from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on mission STS-1, the very first orbital flight of the series of reusable space vehicles. Aboard were mission commander John Watts Young and shuttle pilot Robert L. Crippen.

John Young, a former U.S. Navy test pilot and holder of 21 world flight records, was NASA’s most experienced astronaut. He had served as Pilot of Gemini III; backup pilot, Gemini IV; Commander for Gemini 10; Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10; back-up commander for Apollo 13; Commander, Apollo 16; and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Young retired from the Navy in 1976 with the rank of captain.

STS-1 was Bob Crippen’s first space flight.

On 14 April, Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. It had completed 37 orbits. The total mission duration was 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, 53 seconds.

The flight crew of Columbia (STS-1), John Watts Young and Robert L. Crippen. (NASA)
The flight crew of Columbia (STS-1), John Watts Young (Captain, United States Navy, Retired) and Captain Robert L. Crippen, United States Navy. (NASA)

Columbia was the second of six orbiters built by Rockwell International at Palmdale, California. Construction began 27 March 1975. It was 122.17 feet (37.237 meters) long with a wingspan of 78.06 feet (23.793 meters) and overall height of 56.67 feet (17.273 meters). At rollout, 8 March 1979, OV-102 weighed 159,289 pounds (77,252.3 kilograms), and approximately 178,000 pounds (80,740 kilograms) with its five Rocketdyne RS-25 main engines installed. At launch, the all-up weight of the vehicle was 219,258 pounds (99,453 kilograms).

Columbia was returned to Rockwell for upgrades and modifications from August 1991 to February 1992. It was overhauled and upgraded again at Palmdale in 1994 and 1999.

STS-1 was the first of 135 missions of the Space Shuttle Program. 28 were flown by Columbia (OV-102). During those flights, Columbia spent 300 days, 17 hours, 40 minutes, 22 seconds in space. It completed 4,808 orbits of the Earth and travelled 125,204,911 miles (201,497,772 kilometers).

Columbia was destroyed 1 February 2003 as it disintegrated during reentry. All seven of the astronauts aboard were lost.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1970, 19:13:00 UTC, T plus 000:00:00.61

Apollo 13 (AS-508) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 19:13:00 UTC, 11 April 1970. (NASA)
Apollo 13 (AS-508) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 19:13:00 UTC, 11 April 1970. (NASA)

11 April 1970: At 2:13:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Apollo 13 was launched from Launch Complex 39A at  the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This mission was planned to be the third manned lunar landing. The destination was the Fra Mauro Highlands. In command was Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., United States Navy. The Command Module Pilot was John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr. (who was originally scheduled as the backup CSM pilot, but had replaced Lieutenant Commander T. Kenneth Mattingly II, USN, just three days before launch). and the Lunar Module Pilot was Fred W. Haise, Jr., A NASA astronaut (formerly a U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, test pilot and instructor).

The crew change had been made because it was believed that Ken Mattingly had been exposed to measles and NASA administrators did not want to risk that he might become ill during the flight.

At T + 000:05:30.64, while accelerating toward Earth orbit, the center J-2 engine on the Saturn S-II second stage shut down 2 minutes, 12.36 seconds early, which required the other four engines to increase their burn by 34.53 seconds, and the S-IVB third stage engine had to burn 9 seconds seconds longer than planned to achieve the necessary velocity for orbital insertion.

The Apollo 13 mission did not go as planned. An explosion inside the service module was a very near disaster, and the lunar landing had to be aborted. Returning the three astronauts safely to Earth became the primary task.

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB wou place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Apollo 13 flight crew, James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Fred W. Haise, Jr. (NASA)
Apollo 13 flight crew, left to right: James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr., Fred W. Haise, Jr. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1968: 12:00:01.38 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.38

Apollo 6 (AS-502) launch, 07:00:01 EST, 4 April 1968 (NASA)
Apollo 6 (AS-502) launch, 07:00:01 EST, 4 April 1968 (NASA)

4 April 1968: At 07:00:01.38 EST, Apollo 6 (AS-502), the second and last unmanned Apollo mission, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. First motion was detected at Range Time 00:00:00.38. The purpose of the flight was to determine that an all-up Saturn V could attain Trans Lunar Injection. Because of engine difficulties, it did not do so, but data from the test gave mission planners confidence to go ahead with manned flights.

At T+2:05 the Saturn V experienced a severe “pogo” oscillation, but no structural damage occurred. Next, several structural panels from the lunar module adaptor section were lost due to a manufacturing defect. Finally, during the second stage burn, two of the five Rocketdyne J-2 engines shut down prematurely. Because of this, the planned circular orbit at 175 kilometers altitude was not achieved, instead, the spacecraft entered a 106.9 × 138.6 miles (172.1 × 223.1 kilometers) orbit, circling Earth in 89.8 minutes.

After two orbits, it was planned to send Apollo 6 to the Trans Lunar Injection point, but the third stage engine would not fire. The Service Module engine was used to boost the spacecraft to a peak altitude of 13,810.2 miles (22,225.4 kilometers) and a planned lunar re-entry simulation was carried out. Apollo 6 reached 22,385 miles per hour (36,025 kilometers per hour) as it reentered the atmosphere. 9 hours, 57 minutes, 20 seconds after launch, Apollo 6 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii and was recovered by USS Okinawa (LPH-3).

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust (6770.19 kilonewtons), each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level (33,850.97 kilonewtons).¹ These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,022.01 kilonewtons), and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust (717.28 kilonewtons).

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

¹ The five Rocketdyne F-1 engines of the AS-502 S-IC first stage produced a combined thrust of 7,567,000 pounds (33,660 kilonewtons), 15,000 pounds (67 kilonewtons) less than predicted.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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