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).
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.
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 (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 image) things was the absence of smoke, the lack of very loud roar, and the smallness of the flame.”
The rocket, called Nell,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.”
16 November 1973: Skylab 4 lifted off from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, at 14:01:23 UTC. Aboard the Apollo Command and Service Module were NASA astronauts Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Paul Carr, U.S. Marine Corps, Mission Commander; Lieutenant Colonel William Reid Pogue, U.S. Air Force; and Edward George Gibson, Ph.D. This would be the only space mission for each of them. They would spend 84 days working aboard Skylab.
The launch vehicle was a Saturn IB, SA-208. This rocket had previously stood by as a rescue vehicle during the Skylab 3 mission. The Saturn IB consisted of an S-IB first stage and an S-IVB second stage.
The S-IB was built by Chrysler Corporation Space Division at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana. It was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines, burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks, with 4 containing the RP-1 fuel, and 4 filled with liquid oxygen, surrounded a Jupiter rocket fuel tank containing liquid oxygen. Total thrust of the S-IB stage was 1,666,460 pounds (7,417.783 kilonewtons) and it carried sufficient propellant for a maximum 4 minutes, 22.57 seconds of burn. First stage separation was planned for n altitude of 193,605 feet, with the vehicle accelerating through 7,591.20 feet per second (2,313.80 meters per second).
The McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. S-IVB stage was built at Huntington Beach, California. It was powered by one Rocketdyne J-2 engine, fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The J-2 produced 229,714 pounds of thrust (1,021.819 kilonewtons), at high thrust, and 198,047 pounds (880.957 kilonewtons) at low thrust). The second stage carried enough fuel for 7 minutes, 49.50 seconds burn at high thrust. Orbital insertion would be occur 9 minutes, 51.9 seconds after launch, at an altitude of 98.5 miles (158.5 kilometers) with a velocity of 25,705.77 feet per second (7,835.12 meters per second).
The Skylab-configuration Saturn IB rocket was 223 feet, 5.9 inches (68.119 meters) tall. It had a maximum diameter of 22.8 feet (6.949 meters), and the span across the first stage guide fins was 40.7 feet (12.405 meters). Its empty weight was 159,000 pounds (72,122 kilograms) and at liftoff, it weighed 1,296,000 pounds (587,856 kilograms). It was capable of launching a 46,000 pound (20,865 kilogram) payload to Earth orbit.
11 November 1966: Gemini 12 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 3:36.33.419 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. NASA Astronauts James A Lovell, Jr., and Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, Jr. were the crew. This was the second space flight for Lovell, who had previously flown on Gemini VII, and would later serve as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and Mission Commander on Apollo 13. It was Aldrin’s first space flight. He would later be the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 11, and was the second human to set foot of the surface of the Moon.
The Gemini 12 mission was to rendezvous and docking with an Agena Target Vehicle, which had been launched from Launch Complex 14, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 34.731 seconds earlier by an Atlas Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), and placed in a nearly circular orbit with a perigee of 163 nautical miles (187.6 statute miles/301.9 kilometers) and apogee of 156 nautical miles (179.5 statute miles/288.9 kilometers).
The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship, but Spacecraft 12 weighed 8,296.47 pounds (3,763.22 kilograms) at liftoff.
The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.
The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons).¹ It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons).²
The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.³
Gemini XII was the tenth and last flight of the Gemini program. The purpose of this mission was to test rendezvous and docking with an orbiting Agena Target Docking Vehicle and to test extravehicular activity (“EVA,” or “space walk”) procedures. Both of these were crucial parts of the upcoming Apollo program and previous problems would have to be resolved before the manned space flight projects could move to the next phase. Buzz Aldrin had made a special study of EVA factors, and his three “space walks,” totaling 5 hours, 30 minutes, were highly successful. The rendezvous and docking was flown manually because of a computer problem, but was successful. In addition to these primary objectives, a number of scientific experiments were performed by the two astronauts.
Gemini XII reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just 3.8 nautical miles ( statute miles/ kilometers) from the planned target point. Lovell and Aldrin were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3A helicopter and transported to the primary recovery ship, USS Wasp (CVS-18). Total duration of the flight was 3 days, 22 hours, 34 minutes, 31 seconds.
¹ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s first stage as 458,905 pounds of thrust (2,041.31 kilonewtons)
² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s second stage as 99,296 pounds of thrust (441.69 kilonewtons)
³ Gemini XII/Titan II GLV (GLV-12) weighed 345,710 pounds (156,811 kilograms) at Stage I ignition.
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.