The Saturn V

In many ways, the peak of the U.S. manned space program occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s when almost regular trips were being taken to the Moon. The Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever built, is what made that possible. To this day, it is still the only rocket that has ever carried humans beyond low Earth orbit.

Saturn V 1st stage

A total of 15 flight capable Saturn Vs were built but only 13 ever flew. In addition to those 15, there were another 3 that were built for ground testing. The first Moon landing was launched by Apollo 11 (actually the 6th launch of the Saturn V). The sixth and final Moon landing was launched by Apollo 17 in 1972. This was also the only night launch of the Saturn V.

There was one more unmanned launch of the Saturn V to launch Skylab in 1973. This Saturn V was originally designated for the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. That leaves two more Saturn Vs that were never used. The second and third stages of the Saturn V that was designated for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission can be seen at the Kennedy Space Center (pictured above and below). The first stage is at the Johnson Space Center. The first stage that is at KSC is from a static test firing that occurred before the Saturn V’s first flight. The final Saturn V is similarly divided among different museums around the country. Apollo 18 and Apollo 19 would have also been moon landings.

Saturn V 3rd stage

Before the Apollo program was cancelled, there were some big plans for further launches to the moon using the Saturn V and plans for more powerful future Saturn V derivative rockets. One plan called for using such a launch vehicle for a mission to Mars in 1980. Ultimately, cost was the factor that led to the end of the Saturn V and future plans based on potential derivatives. Each Saturn V launch cost a total of more than a billion dollars in today’s dollars. This is pretty close to what Space Shuttle launches cost though it was originally intended to be cheaper because of reusability. NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System is planned to exceed the capabilities of the Saturn V and eventually take humans to Mars in the 2030s, 50 or more years later. Supposedly, it will only cost approximately 500 million per launch.

The pictures above were taken during a visit to KSC in February 2000. The Saturn V is still there today though :)