I just adore this scene. It’s so… prophetic. I mean, even after creating an artificial tailfin for Toothless, Hiccup wasn’t thinking about riding him. Yet, as soon as the thing is in place, the dragon spreads his wings in that slow, freaking amazing motion… And it looks like the wings are a part of Hiccup as well.
Better hold on, young man… You’re gonna experience flying on a Night Fury. You’re gonna help him regain his flight. And you’re not only gonna love it… You’re gonna make it the very essence of your life.
Fifty years ago, with President Kennedy’s Moon landing deadline looming, the powerful Saturn V had to perform. And perform it did—hurling 24 humans to the Moon.
The race to land astronauts on the Moon was getting tense 50 years ago this week. Apollo 6, the final uncrewed test flight of America’s powerful Moon rocket, launched on April 4, 1968. Several technical issues made for a less-than-perfect launch, but the test flight nonetheless convinced NASA managers that the rocket was up to the task of carrying humans. Less than two years remained to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s goal to put humans on the Moon before the decade was out, meaning the Saturn V rocket had to perform.
1—“The only chance to get to the Moon before the end of 1969.”
After the April 1968 Apollo 6 test flight (pictured above), the words of Deke Slayton (one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts) and intense competition with a rival team in the Soviet Union propelled a 12-member panel to unanimously vote for a Christmas 1968 crewed mission to orbit the Moon.
2—Four Hundred Elephants…
The Saturn V rocket stood about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 60 feet (18 meters) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds (2.8 million kilograms), or the weight of about 400 elephants.
3—…and Busloads of Thrust
Stand back, Ms. Frizzle. The Saturn V generated 7.6 million pounds (34.5 million newtons) of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams. It could launch about 130 tons (118,000 kilograms) into Earth orbit. That’s about as much weight as 10 school buses. The Saturn V could launch about 50 tons (43,500 kilograms) to the Moon. That’s about the same as four school buses.
4—Christmas at the Moon
On Christmas Eve 1968, the Saturn V delivered on engineers’ promises by hurling Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders into lunar orbit. The trio became the first human beings to orbit another world. The Apollo 8 crew broadcast a special holiday greeting from lunar orbit and also snapped the iconic earthrise image of our home planet rising over the lunar landscape.
5—Gumdrop and Spider
The crew of Apollo 9 proved that they could pull the lunar module out of the top of the Saturn V’s third stage and maneuver it in space (in this case high above Earth). The crew named their command module “Gumdrop.” The Lunar Module was named “Spider.”
6—The Whole Enchilada
Saturn-V AS-505 provided the ride for the second dry run to the Moon in 1969. Tom Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young rode Command Module “Charlie Brown” to lunar orbit and then took Lunar Module “Snoopy” on a test run in lunar orbit. Apollo 10 did everything but land on the Moon, setting the stage for the main event a few months later. Young and Cernan returned to walk on the Moon aboard Apollo 16 and 17 respectively. Cernan, who died in 2017, was the last human being (so far) to set foot on the Moon.
7—The Main Event
The launch of Apollo 11—the first mission to land humans on the Moon—provided another iconic visual as Saturn-V AS-506 roared to life on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Three days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first of many bootprints in the lunar dust (supported from orbit by Michael Collins).
Saturn V rockets carried 24 humans to the Moon, and 12 of them walked on its surface between 1969 and 1972. Thirteen are still alive today. The youngest, all in their early 80s, are moonwalkers Charles Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) and Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly (Apollo 16, and also one of the heroes who helped rescue Apollo 13). There is no single image of all the humans who have visited the Moon.
This was the last launch of a Saturn V, but you can still see the three remaining giant rockets at the visitor centers at Johnson Space Center in Texas and Kennedy Space Center in Florida and at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Alabama (near Marshall Space Flight Center, one of the birthplaces of the Saturn V).
10—The Next Generation
The Saturn V was retired in 1973. Work is now underway on a fleet of rockets. We are planning an uncrewed flight test of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to travel beyond the Moon called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). “This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known,” said Mike Sarafin, EM-1 mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Read the web version of this 10 Things to Know article HERE.
The launch went as planned. Our Soyuz spacecraft did a great job getting the three of us to the International Space Station (ISS).
A week later, it all seems like a blur. The bus driver played me a video of my family and friends delivering their good luck messages. After exiting the bus at the launch pad, I was fortunate to have the Soyuz chief designer (Roman) and NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) walk me to the stairs and elevator that would take us to the top of the rocket for boarding. The temperature at the pad was approximately -17 degrees centigrade, and we were wearing the Russian Polar Bear suits over our spacesuits in order to stay warm. Walking in these suits is a little hard, and I was happy to have Roman and Bill helping me.
We walked into the fog created by the systems around the rocket, climbed the ladder, and waved goodbye. My last words before launch were to Bill, “Boiler Up!”. Bill is a fellow and very well-known Boilermaker. We strapped in, and the launch and docking were nominal. But I will add that the second stage cutoff and separation, and ignition of the third stage was very exciting. We were under approximately 4 Gs when the engine cutoff, which gave us a good jolt forward during the deceleration and then a good jolt back into the seat after the third stage ignited. I looked at Anton and we both began to giggle like school children.
We spent two days in orbit as our phase angle aligned with ISS. Surprisingly, I did not feel sick. I even got 4 hours of sleep the first night and nearly 6 hours the second night. Having not been able to use my diaper while sitting in the fetal position during launch, it was nice to get out of our seats and use the ACY (Russian toilet). Docking was amazing. I compared it to rendezvousing on a tanker in a fighter jet, except the rendezvous with ISS happened over a much larger distance. As a test pilot, it was very interesting to watch the vehicle capture and maintain the centerline of ISS’s MRM-1 docking port as well as capturing and maintaining the required speed profile.
Just like landing at the ship, I could feel the vehicle’s control system (thrusters) making smaller and faster corrections and recorrections. In the flight test world, this is where the “gains” increase rapidly and where any weaknesses in the control system will be exposed. It was amazing to see the huge solar arrays and tons of equipment go by my window during final approach. What an engineering marvel the ISS is. Smooth sailing right into the docking port we went!
About an hour later, after equalizing pressures between the station and Soyuz, we opened the hatch and greeted our friends already onboard. My first view of the inside of the space station looked pretty close to the simulators we have been training in for the last several years. My first words were, “Hey, what are you guys doing at Building 9?”. Then we tackled each other with celebratory hugs!