Taylor Made: The rocket that conquered the moon
The real Saturn V carried an Apollo spacecraft that orbited three astronauts around the moon. It also had a lunar module that took two of the three to the moon’s surface and then propelled them back to the orbiting spacecraft. The rest of the rocket was comprised of connected engine segments that would break off throughout the initial flight to space.
The first segment contained two chambers, one with 203,400 gallons of kerosene fuel and the other with 318,000 gallons of liquid oxygen. The two components mixed at a ratio of 2.27 parts LOX to 1 part kerosene fuel. The combustion of this mixture in each of the segment’s five engines produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The engines were nineteen feet long apiece with a max diameter of more than 12 feet.
To recap our atmosphere, we live in the troposphere, the lowest layer. Next comes the stratosphere, which protects us from UV rays. Many commercial jets will fly in the lower part of the stratosphere, where the air is very dry and has little turbulence. Following is the mesosphere, the last layer of atmosphere that falls within the boundary of belonging entirely to the earth. These first three layers are each relatively small, roughly 6 vertical miles for the troposphere and 12 apiece for the next two layers. After that, the scale grows significantly. The thermosphere is comprised of more than 217 vertical miles, and beyond it, the exosphere stretches on indefinitely. We tend to measure the end of earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of outer space at 62 miles overhead, i.e. near the lower boundary of the thermosphere.
The Saturn V could cross into the thermosphere and enter space in under three minutes. At an altitude of 42 miles above sea level and roughly two minutes forty-two seconds into the flight, the first segment of rocket would fall away and eventually reach the Atlantic ocean. After the second set of engines fell away at a little over nine minutes, the rocket would prepare to enter orbit. At 11 minutes and 39 seconds of flight, it would reach its orbit altitude of 119 miles above sea level, still well within the thermosphere. From orbit, lunar operations could begin.
While SpaceX totes its rocket Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in use today, the company recognizes that its rocket is still not as tall or powerful as the Saturn V. The record-setting rocket was used in the Apollo missions 8-17 and sent astronauts to the moon in Apollo 11, 12, and 14-17. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s famous lunar landing occurred during Apollo 11. In the infamous Apollo 13 mission, the Apollo spacecraft, not the Saturn V rocket, had a mechanical failure that prevented the astronauts from completing a lunar landing. The Saturn V’s last launch took place in 1973, when a modified version flew unmanned into space and launched the Skylab space station.
Photo at top: The Saturn V launched many successful Apollo missions.