saturn ivb


     Here, we have the Saturn V rocket, housed inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, Florida, just a few miles from Launch complex 39, where these beasts once roared into the sky.

     When we look at the enormous first stage of the Saturn V rocket, called an S-IC, we think “spaceship”. Truthfully, the Saturn V first stage never actually made it into space. The stage only burned for the first 150 seconds of flight, then dropped away from the rest of the rocket, all while remaining totally inside Earth’s atmosphere. The S-IC stage is merely an aircraft.

     Even more truthfully, the S-IC stage displayed here at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, never flew at all. It is a static test article, fired while firmly attached to the ground, to make sure the rocket would actually hold together in flight. Obviously, these tests were successful, (e.g. she didn’t blow up), and she sits on our Apollo museum today. I wrote more about this particular stage in a previous post, (click here to view.)

     The rest of the rocket, the second and third stages, called the S-II and S-IVB stages, did fly into space. The S-II put the manned payload into orbit, and the S-IVB was responsible for initially propelling that payload from earth orbit to the moon, an act called “trans-lunar injection” (TLI).

     The particular rocket in this display, except for the first stage, is called SA-514. 514 was going to launch the cancelled Apollo 18 and 19 moon missions.

     The command/service module (CSM) in the photos is called CSM-119. This particular capsule is unique to the Apollo program, because it has five seats. All the others had three. 119 could launch with a crew of three, and land with five, because it was designed it for a possible Skylab rescue mission. It was later used it as a backup capsule for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

This is a photograph taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft looking back at the Saturn V third (S-IVB) stage from which the spacecraft had just separated following trans-lunar injection. Attached to the S-IVB is the Lunar Module Test Article (LTA) which simulated the mass of a Lunar Module (LM) on the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission. The 29-feet panels of the Spacecraft LM Adapter which enclosed the LTA during launch have already been jettisoned and are out of view. Sunlight reflected from small particles shows the “firefly” phenomenon which was reported by astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during the first Earth-orbital flight, Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) of the Mercury Program.


     I recently had the opportunity to visit the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and photograph their enormous Saturn V rocket. Each stage of the rocket is displayed separately, allowing the viewer to glance the machine’s inner workings. Although, they work together as a system, it’s important to think of the different stages as completely separate rockets. These stages used different propellants, and were manufactured by different companies, in different facilities.

     Kennedy’s complete Saturn V rocket is actually a hodgepodge of different Saturn V stages, put together from various rockets that had completely different purposes, from different points in the program.  I’ll outline where each stage came from, and it’s intended purpose. 

     The first stage of a Saturn V rocket is called the “S-IC” Stage. This particular S-IC on display, shown in photos one thru five, is called S-IC-T. The “T” stands for Static Test Article. S-IC-T was manufactured at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, along with the first few stages. Later, manufacturing would be moved to NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

     This article was tested at Marshall on the S-IC Test Stand, which I covered in a previous post (click here to view). Every time they test-fired this stage, the acoustic shockwave emanating from the five F-1 engines would shatter the majority of the windows in nearby Downtown Huntsville. If NASA kept that up, the would soon lose the support of the locals. Thus, the “Mississippi Test Facility” was created in Hancock County, Mississippi. NASA created an easement around the new facility large enough to work as an acoustical barrier, so no more buildings could be damaged. S-IC-T was successfully tested there on the enormous B2 Test Stand. Later, the Mississippi Test Facility would be renamed “NASA Stennis Space Center”, as it is called today.

     Everything forward of the first stage is from a rocket called SA-514, which was meant to land Apollo 18 in Schröter’s Valley, and explored the Copernicus Crater on the Moon. Due to loss of public interest and budget cuts, Apollo 18 and several subsequent Apollo Moon missions were cancelled.

     It seems a shame that we couldn’t continue on to the Moon, but if we had, we wouldn’t have these beautiful museum pieces today. NASA certainly made the best of a sad situation. We’re truly blessed to be able to visit such incredible pieces of engineering. The Saturn V Rocket is, most certainly, one of history’s greatest tools of science and adventure.


Apollo 7 Completes Transposition & Docking Procedures (11 Oct. 1968) — The expended Saturn S-IVB stage as photographed from the Apollo 7 spacecraft during transposition and docking maneuvers at an approximate altitude of 125 nautical miles, at ground elapsed time of three hours and 16 minutes (beginning of third revolution). This view is over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Kennedy, Florida. The Florida coastline from Flagler Beach southward to Vero Beach is clearly visible in picture. Much of the Florida peninsula can be seen. Behind the open panels is the Gulf of Mexico. Distance between the Apollo 7 spacecraft and the S-IVB is approximately 100 feet. The round, white disc inside the open panels of the S-IVB is a simulated docking target similar to that used on the Lunar Module (LM) for docking during lunar missions.


Shepard Back in Space! Remembering Apollo 14 as Commander Alan Shepard, CMP Stuart Roosa, and LMP Edgar Mitchell launched on their nine-day mission to Fra Mauro on January 31, 1971. 

Shepard was the oldest U.S. astronaut when he made his trip aboard Apollo 14. He is the only astronaut from Project Mercury (the original Mercury Seven) to reach the Moon.

The crew experienced several difficulties during their flight to the moon as six attempts were required with docking to the LM before a “hard dock” was achieved. Prior to the PDI for the Antares landing, a short in the LM computer abort switch was discovered, which could have triggered an undesired abort during the LM’s descent. A second problem occurred as the LM radar altimeter failed to lock automatically onto the Moon’s surface, depriving the navigation computer of vital information on the vehicle altitude and groundspeed. After the astronauts cycled the landing radar breaker, the unit successfully acquired a signal near 18,000 feet again, just in the nick of time.

Commander Shepard then manually made a pin-point landing closer to its intended target than any of the other six Moon landing missions.

Shepard’s first words, after stepping onto the lunar surface were, “And it’s been a long way, but we’re here.”

Apollo 9 Completes First Docking of a Lunar Module (3 March 1969) — The Lunar Module (LM) “Spider”, still attached to the Saturn V third (S-IVB) stage, is photographed from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) “Gumdrop” on the first day of the Apollo 9 Earth-orbital mission. This picture was taken following CSM/LM-S-IVB separation and prior to LM extraction from the S-IVB. The Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA) panels have already been jettisoned. Inside the Command Module were astronauts James A. McDivitt, commander; David R. Scott, command module pilot; and Russell L. Schweickart, lunar module pilot.


Saturn-IVB by NASA on The Commons
Saturn-IVB 204 launch stage unloaded from NASA Barge “Promise” after arrival at Cape Kennedy. Saturn-IVB will be the second stage of the Saturn I Launch Vehicle. Image #: S66-50152 Date: August 15, 1966