26 February 1966: AS-201, a Saturn IB launch vehicle, carried the first complete Block 1 Apollo Command and Service Module on a 37 minute, 19.7 second unmanned suborbital test flight. Liftoff was at 11:12:01 a.m., EST, from Launch Complex 34 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This flight was a demonstration of the combined Apollo Command Module and the Service Module. The second production Apollo capsule, CM-009, and the first production service module, SM-009, were launched by the first Saturn IB, SA-201.
The Apollo capsule reached a maximum altitude of 305.8 miles (492.1 kilometers) and landed near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, 5,267 miles (8,477 kilometers) from Cape Canaveral. (S. 8.18°, W 11.15°) Total duration of the flight was 37 minutes, 19.7 seconds.
The Apollo spacecraft was recovered by USS Boxer (LPH- 4).
The flight was successful, though several problems occurred. These were identified and corrected on the following production vehicles.
The Apollo command module of AS-201 was Spacecraft 009. It was a Block I capsule. The Apollo was a conical space capsule designed and built by North American Aviation to carry a crew of three on space missions of two weeks or longer.
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 New Orleans Michoud Assembly Facility. It was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines, burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks containing the RP-1 fuel surrounded a Jupiter rocket tank containing the liquid oxygen. The S-IB stage is 80 feet, 2 inches (24.435 meters) long, with a diameter of 21 feet, 5 inches (6.528 meters). The empty weight of this stage was 85,000 pounds (38,555 kilograms). Fully fueled, it weighed 498,099 pounds (225,934 kilograms). Total thrust of the S-IB stage was 1,600,000 pounds (7,117,155 Newtons) and it carried sufficient propellant for 2 minutes, 35 seconds burn time. This would lift the vehicle to an altitude of 37 nautical miles (69 kilometers).
The Douglas Aircraft Company-built S-IVB second stage was assembled at Huntington Beach, California. It was powered by one Rocketdyne J-2 engine, also fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The S-IVB is 60 feet, 1 inch (18.313 meters) long with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). The second stage had an empty weight of 28,400 pounds (12,882 kilograms) and gross weight was 261,900 pounds (118,796 kilograms). The single engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,033,100 Newtons) and and its burn time was 7 minutes, 55 seconds.
The AS-201 223 feet, 6 inches (68.123 meters). The total vehicle weight was 1,320,220 pounds (598,842 kilograms). It was capable of launching a 46,000 pound (20,865 kilogram) payload to Earth orbit.
After being recovered, the AS-201 Apollo command module was used for drop tests. It is at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.
20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.
Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.
In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,
When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.
—Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1
2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.
Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.
Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.
During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)
After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).
The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory space probe NEAR—Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous—was launched aboard a three-stage McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The purpose of the 5-year-long mission was to study several near-Earth asteroids, including 253 Mathilde and 433 Eros.
The space probe was renamed NEAR Shoemaker in honor of Eugene Merle (“Gene”) Shoemaker, Ph.D., a well-known planetary scientist who dies in a vehicle collision in Australia, 18 July 1997.
NEAR Shoemaker made its closest approach to 253 Mathilde on 27 June 1997, passing the asteroid at a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) at 35,748 kilometers per hour (22,213 miles per hour). More than 500 photographic images, along with sensor data, were transmitted to Earth. The space probe’s main engine was then ignited to send it on a new trajectory to 433 Eros.
NEAR Shoemaker was placed into an orbit around 433 Eros on 14 February 2000. NEAR Shoemaker photographed and studied the asteroid for nearly a year, and then on 12 February 2001, after completing 230 orbits, made a soft landing on its surface.
The McDonnell Douglas Delta II 7925-8 Orbital Launch Vehicle is a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. It is 125 feet, 4 inches (38.201 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs approximately 480,000 pounds (217,724 kilograms). At the time, the Delta II was the smallest rocket used to launch a planetary mission.
The first stage is a Thor/Delta XLT-C (“long-tank Thor”), which is 85 feet, 5½ inches (26.048 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 224,600 pounds (101,877 kilograms) when fully fueled. The stage is powered by one liquid-fueled Rocketdyne RS-27A rocket engine, rated at 236,992 pounds of thrust (1,054.193 kilonewtons). Fueled with 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) of RP-1/LOX propellant and oxidizer, the engine has 4 minutes, 25 second burn time.
Surrounding the Thor are nine Alliant Techsytems (ATK) GEM-40 (Graphite-Epoxy Motor) solid fuel boosters. They are 42 feet, 6 inches (12.957 meters) long, and 3 feet, 4 inches (1.018 meters) in diameter, and weigh 28,671 pounds ( kilograms). Each booster produces 110,800 pounds of thrust (492.863 kilonewtons), and have 1 minute, 4 second burn time. Six of the nine GEM-40s are ignited at launch, and the remaining three ignite after the first six burn out.
The second stage is a McDonnell Douglas Delta K, which is 19 feet, 3 inches (5.867 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 15,331 pounds ( kilograms). The Delta K is powered by one Aerojet AJ10-118K liquid-fueled rocket engine which produces 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons). It has a 7 minute, 11 second burn time.
The third stage is a McDonnell Douglas PAM-D (Payload Assist Module), powered by a Thiokol Propulsion Star 48B solid rocket motor, which produces 15,000 pounds of thrust (66.723 kilonewtons), and has a burn time of 1 minute, 27 second burn time.
The NEAR space probe was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The probe was equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, near-infrared imaging spectrometer and a multi-spectral CCD imaging camera, laser rangefinder and magnetometer. NEAR was 9 feet, ¼-inch (2.749 meters) long and weighed 1,803 pounds (817.8 kilograms). Power was supplied by four solar panels, capable of generating 400 watts.The main engine produced 450 Newtons (101 pounds) of thrust using hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. A system of 11 hydrazine thrusters and 4 reaction wheels were used attitude control.
31 January 1958, 10:48 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (1 February 1958, 03:48:00 UTC): The United States of America launched its first successful satellite, Explorer 1, from Launch Complex 26A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite entered an orbit with a perigee of 224 miles (360 kilometers) and apogee of 1,575 miles (2,535 kilometers). It completed one orbit every 1 hour, 54.9 minutes.
Explorer 1 was designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. The satellite carried a cosmic ray detector, internal and external temperature sensors, and a micrometeorite detector. Powered by batteries, it transmitted data for 105 days.
The satellite was launched aboard a Juno-1 four-stage liquid-fueled rocket, produced by the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). The Juno satellite launch vehicle was developed from the Jupiter-C intermediate range ballistic missile, and externally appears virtually identical. The complete Explorer 1/Juno-1 was 71.25 feet (21.72 meters) tall and weighed 64,080 pounds (29,066 kilograms) at launch.
The Juno-1 first stage was 69 feet, 8 inches (21.234 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. Four stabilizing fins had a maximum span of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). The engine was a Rocketdyne A-7, which burned a combination of Hydyne and liquid oxygen. The A-7 was rated at 83,000 pounds of thrust (369.20 kilonewtons) and burned for 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
The second stage consisted of a cluster of 11 JPL “Baby Sergeant” solid-rocket boosters, producing a total of 16,500 pounds of thrust (73.40 kilonewtons) and burned for 6.5 seconds. These were scaled-down version of the Thiokol XM100 Sergeant booster. They were 3 feet, 10 inches (1.168 meters) long and 6.00 inches (15.24 centimeters) in diameter. Each booster contained 50 pounds ( kilograms) of solid fuel. The second stage weighed 1,020 pounds (463 kilograms).
The third stage was powered by three Baby Sergeant boosters, producing 4,500 pounds of thrust (20.02 kilonewtons). These were clustered inside the second stage boosters, and both the second and third stage were covered by a fiberglass “tub” which could be spun up to 750 r.p.m. to stabilize the rocket after launch. The third stage weighed 280 pounds (127 kilograms).
The fourth stage consisted of the Explorer satellite and a single Baby Sergeant booster. The booster remained attached to the satellite in orbit. The Explorer 1 satellite was 2 feet, 6.75 inches (0.781 meters) long, and 6.50 inches (16.51 centimeters) in diameter. It weighed 30.66 pounds (13.91 kilograms). Including its booster, the fourth stage was 6 feet, 8.75 inches (2.051 meters) long and weighed 80 pounds (36 kilograms). The fourth stage booster produced 1,500 pounds of thrust (6.67 kilonewtons) for 6.5 seconds. This gave the Explorer 1 an orbital velocity of approximately 18,000 miles per hour (28,968 kilometers per hour).
Explorer 1 remained in orbit for 12 years, 2 months and 1 day. On 31 March 1970, its orbit decayed and the satellite re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and was destroyed.
22 January 1968: At 22:48:00.86 UTC (5:48:08 a.m., Eastern Standard Time) a Saturn IB rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 37B at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida, carrying LM-1, an unmanned Apollo Program lunar lander, into a low-Earth orbit.
AS-204 reached Mach 1 at T + 0:59.8, passing 24,574 feet (7,490.16 meters). First stage separation occurred at T + 02:23.6, at an altitude of 194,228 feet (59,201 meters), with the vehicle accelerating through 7,563 feet per second (2,305 meters per second).
The AS-204 S-IVB engine cut off occurred at T + 09:53 at 536,166 feet (163,423 meters) with the vehicle travelling 25,659 feet per second (7,820 meters per second). Orbital insertion occurred at T + 00:10:03 at an altitude of 88 nautical miles (163 kilometers) with a velocity of 25,684 feet per second (7,828 meters per second). The orbit was elliptical with an apogee of 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) and perigee of 88 nautical miles (163 kilometers). The orbital period was 88.39 minutes.
The Lunar Module separated from the S-IVB stage at T + 00:53:55.24. It was the allowed to cold-soak for about 3 hours. At T + 03:59.46, the LM’s descent engine was fired but aborted by the guidance computer after 4.0 seconds. A little over 3 hours later, at T + 06:10:42, the descent engine was fired a second time, and burned until T + 06:13:14.7.
The ascent engine fired at 06:12:14.7 while the descent and ascent stages were still joined. The engine burned 60.0 seconds. It was fired a second time at T + 07:44:13.
With the tests completed, the orbits of the separated LM stages were allowed to decay. LM-1 quickly re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and was destroyed.
The purpose of the Apollo 5 mission was to test the Grumman-built Lunar Module in actual spaceflight conditions. Engines for both the descent and ascent stages had to be started in space, and be capable of restarts. Although the mission had some difficulties as a result of programming errors, it was successful and a second test flight with LM-2 determined to be unnecessary and was cancelled.
SA-204 ¹ had originally been the scheduled launch vehicle for the Apollo 1 manned orbital flight.
When a fire in the command module killed astronauts Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee, 27 January 1967, the rocket was undamaged. It was moved from Launch Complex 39 and reassembled at LC 37B for use as the launch vehicle for Apollo 5.
The Saturn IB was a two-stage, liquid-fueled, heavy launch vehicle. It consisted of a S-IB first stage and S-IVB second stage. The total height of AS-204 was 181 feet, 0.355 inches (55.17782 meters). The Saturn IB rocket stood 141 feet, 8.644 inches (43.19636 meters), without payload. 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.
The S-IB first stage was built by the Chrysler Corporation Space Division at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana. The first stage was 80 feet, 4.089 inches (24.4878606 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 8.0 inches (6.604 meters) (21 feet, 5.0 inches across the Redstone tanks). The stage was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines, burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks, with four containing the RP-1 fuel, and four 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. The first stage of AS-204 was S-IB-4.
The McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company S-IVB stage was built at Huntington Beach, California. The stage was 61 feet, 4.555 inches (18.708497 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 8.0 inches (6.604 meters). It was powered by a single 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.
The Lunar Module was a two-stage vehicle designed to transport two astronauts from Lunar Orbit to the surface of the Moon, provide shelter and a base of operations while on the Moon, and then return the astronauts to lunar orbit, rendezvousing with the Apollo Command and Service Module. It was designed and built by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation at Bethpage, Long Island, New York.
The Descent Stage incorporated extendable landing gear, a hypergolic-fueled rocket engine to brake from orbital speed, establish a landing trajectory, and then decelerate for landing. The TRW Space Technology Laboratories Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE) produced a maximum of 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons), and could be throttled from 10–100% thrust. The stage also carried support equipment, oxygen, water, etc., needed by the astronauts, and equipment for use during surface activities.
To return to Lunar Orbit, the Descent Stage was left behind, and the Bell Aerosystems Lunar Module Ascent Engine (LMAE) was fired. This engine also used hypergolic fuel and produced 3,500 pounds of thrust (15.569 kilonewtons).
¹ The Apollo Program Saturn rockets were designated as both AS-xxx and SA-xxx. The AS-xxx designation was applied to the complete vehicle, or “full stack,” while the SA-xxx designation applied to only the multi-stage rocket assembly.