28 March 1935: Near Roswell, New Mexico, Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first gyroscopically-stabilized liquid-fueled rocket. In a 20-second flight, the A Series rocket, number A-5, reached an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) and traveled 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) down range. Its speed was 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour). During the flight, the rocket corrected its flight path several times.
The A Series rockets were of varying lengths and mass. The representative A-series rocket displayed at the National Air and Space Museum is 15 feet, 4½ inches (468.63 centimeters) long with a diameter of 9 inches (22.86 centimeters). The span across the fins is 1 foot, 9½ inches (54.61 centimeters). It weighs 78.5 pounds (35.6 kilograms). The rocket was fueled with gasoline and liquid oxygen, pressurized with nitrogen.
A gyroscope controlled vanes placed in the engine’s exhaust, providing stabilization during powered flight.
Goddard flew the A-series 14 times between 15 January and 29 October 1935.
The National Air and Space Museum describes the rocket’s construction:
“Aluminum skin, thin gauge, a long tail section from bottom of fins to bottom of mid-section. Aluminum skin also on parachute section and nosecone wholly of spun aluminum except for steel attachment screw. Steel skin (for greater strength and insulation) below nosecone, over mid-section (over propellant tanks), and around small section above fins. One steel tube or pipe on each side of rocket, along propellant section; one smaller diameter copper tube on one side. Steel nozzle and other interior components. Fabric parachute.”
Goddard is the “Father of Modern Rocketry.” Many of his developments were copied by German engineers as they developed the V2 rocket of World War II. And this led to America’s own post-War rocket developments, including the mighty Saturn V moon rocket.
16 March 1926: At 2:30 in the afternoon, Robert Hutchings Goddard, Ph.D., a professor in physics at Clark University, launched the first successful liquid-fueled rocket from his Aunt Effie’s farm (known as “the Asa Ward Farm”) at Auburn, Massachussetts.
In his diary, Dr. Goddard wrote:
“March 16. Went to Auburn with S [Henry Sachs] in am. E[Esther Christine Kisk Goddard] and Mr. Roope [Percy M. Roope, Ph.D.] came out at 1 p.m. Tried rocket at 2:30. It rose 41 feet & went 184 feet in 2.5 secs., after the lower half of the nozzle burned off. . . .”
The following day, he described the rocket flight in greater detail:
“”The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn. The day was clear and comparatively quiet. The anemometer on the Physics lab was turning leisurely when Mr. Sachs and I left in the morning, and was turning as leisurely when we returned at 5:30 pm. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate. It looked almost magical as it rose, without any appreciably greater noise or flame, as if it said ‘I’ve been here long enough; I think I’ll be going somewhere else, if you don’t mind.’ Esther said that it looked like a fairy or an aesthetic dancer, as it started off. The sky was clear, for the most part, with large shadowy white clouds, but late in the afternoon there was a large pink cloud in the west, over which the sun shone. One of the surprising [the rest of this sentence is from the next page] things was the absence of smoke, the lack of very loud roar, and the smallness of the flame.”
The rocket, called Nell ¹ and known as Goddard 1, was fueled by gasoline and liquid oxygen. It was 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) tall and weighed approximately 10.4 pounds (4.7 kilograms) when fueled. The engine produced an estimated 9 pounds (40 newtons) of thrust.
¹ Nell was a reference to the title character, “Salvation Nell,” from a 1908 play by Edward Brewster Sheldon. The character was portrayed by a leading actress of the time, Minnie Maddern Fiske, née Maria Augusta Davey, and popularly known simply as “Mrs. Fiske.”
9 November 1967: The first flight of a Saturn V took place when the unmanned Apollo 4/Saturn V (AS-501) was launched from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket lifted off at 12:00:01.263 UTC.
AS-501 consisted of the first Saturn V launch vehicle, SA-501, with Apollo Spacecraft 017 (a Block I vehicle with Block II upgrades), and included the Launch Escape Tower, Command Module, Service Module, Lunar Module Adapter, and Lunar Module Test Article LTA-10R).
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, 0.15 inches (110.64621 meters) tall, from the tip of the escape tower to the bottom of the F-1 engines. The first and second stages were 33 feet, 1.2 inches (10.089 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms).¹ 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.² 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.³
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.⁴ 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 AS-501 total vehicle mass at First Motion was 6,137,868 pounds (2,784,090 kilograms).
² Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IC stage as 7,728,734.5 pounds of thrust (34,379.1 kilonewtons).
³ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-II stage as 1,086,396 pounds of thrust (4,832.5 kilonewtons).
⁴ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IVB stage as 222,384 pounds of thrust (989.2 kilonewtons) during the first burn; 224,001 pounds (996.4 kilonewtons) during the second burn.
27 October 1961: At 15:06:04 UTC, (10:06 a.m., EST) the first Saturn C-1 heavy launch vehicle (Saturn I, SA-1) lifted off from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was a test of the first stage, only. The upper stages were dummies.
At about 109 seconds after liftoff, four inner engines of the first stage shut down, followed 6 seconds later by the outer four. The rocket continued on a ballistic trajectory.
The Saturn C-1 was bigger than any rocket built up to that time. Early versions of the three-stage rocket were 162 feet, 8.90 inches (49.6037meters) tall, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 5.0 inches (6.528 meters). The all-up weight was 1,124,000 pounds (509,838 kilograms).
The first stage of SA-1 was built by the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) at Huntsville, Alabama. The S-I stage was built up with a Jupiter rocket fuel tank in the center for liquid oxygen, surrounded by eight Redstone rocket tanks. Four were filled with RP-1 propellant, alternating with four filled with LOx. The first stage was powered by eight Rocketdyne Division H-1 engines rated at 165,000 pounds of thrust (733.96 kilonewtons), each. Total thrust for the first stage was 1,320,000 pounds (5,871.65 kilonewtons). The outer four engines were gimbaled to steer the rocket. (The S-I Block I stage had no fins.)
The first stage had been test fired 20 times before being transported to Cape Canaveral by barge.
For the first flight, SA-1, the S-!V second stage and S-V third stage were dummies. The S-IV was filled with 90,000 pounds (40,823 kilograms) of water for ballast. The S-V third stage, carried 100,000 pounds (45,359 kilograms) of water. Mounted above the third stage was a Jupiter nose cone.
The Saturn C-1 weighed 925,000 pounds (419,573 kilograms). It contained 41,000 gallons (155,200 liters) of RP-1, a refined kerosene fuel, with 66,000 gallons (249,837 liters) of liquid oxygen oxidizer— 600,000 pounds (272,155 kilograms) of propellants.
SA-1 reached a maximum speed of 3,607 miles per hour (5,805 kilometers per hour), and a peak altitude of 84.813 miles (136.493 kilometers). It impacted in the Atlantic Ocean 214.727 miles (345.570 kilometers) down range. The duration of the flight was 15 minutes, 0 seconds. The flight was considered to be nearly flawless.
3 October 1942: First successful launch of a prototype Aggregat 4 (A4) rocket, V-4 (Versuchsmuster4), from PrüfstandVII at Heereversuchanstalt Peenemünde, or HVP, the Army Research Center at Peenemünde on the island of Usedom, off the Baltic coast of Germany.
The rocket engine burned for 58 seconds. The rocket reached an altitude of 85–90 kilometers (53–56 miles), and traveled approximately 190 kilometers (118 miles) downrange. Although V-4 did not reach the Kármán line at 100 kilometers, the currently accepted altitude at which space begins, this Aggregat 4 is still considered to have been the first rocket to reach space.
Major General Walter Doernberger, a German military officer and doctor of engineering who was in command of the V1 and V2 development programs, said, “This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel.”
Development of the A4 began in 1938 under Dr. Frhr. Wernher von Braun. The first prototype, Versuchsmuster 1 (V-1), was being prepared for launch on 18 April 1942. During test runs of the engine, it was badly damaged and was scrapped. Prototype V-2 was launched 13 June 1942 and reached approximately 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), but the guidance system failed and the rocket crashed into the Baltic Sea a short distance from the launch site. V-3 suffered a structural failure, 16 August 1942. V-4, the fourth prototype Aggregat 4, was the first successful flight.
The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, or Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile with an empty weight of approximately 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) and weighing 28,000 pounds (12,700 kilograms), fully loaded. It carried a 738 kilogram (1,627 pound) (sources vary) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. The propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.
The complete rocket was 14.036 meters (46.050 feet) long, and had a maximum diameter of 1.651 meters (5.417 feet). The rocket was stabilized by four large fins, 4.035 meters (13.238 feet) long, with a maximum span of 3.564 meters (11.693 feet). The leading edge of these fins was swept 60°, and 3°. A small guide vane was at the outer tip of each fin, and other vanes were placed in the engine’s exhaust plume.
When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,760 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (320 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,880 kilometers per hour), about Mach 2.35, so its approach would have been completely silent in the target area.
The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.