At the time, they featured one of the largest rockets ever built: the mighty Saturn V. With each mission building on the successes, and problems, of the previous one, Mankind finally set foot on another world.
NASA’s Apollo program had its first manned launch, Apollo 7, on October 7, 1968. But that is not the date that the program began. It actually started in 1961, running concurrently with the Mercury and Gemini programs, and designed to integrate fully with them. In essence, Mercury and Gemini were designed to build, test, and refine the building blocks of the Apollo’s ultimate mission: landing men on the Moon.
While many people easily remember the massive Saturn V rocket of the program’s later years, that rocket was not the only one used. The “Little Joe II” was used for testing the launch escape system. The Saturn I was used to test the procedures for putting a CSM (Command Service Module) into low-Earth orbit. The Saturn IB was an upgraded version of the S-I, and included engines that were later used on the second and third stages of the Saturn V.
The Saturn V was the culmination of years of design and testing. It was 10.1 meters (33 feet) in diameter, and with its full Lunar payload of the CSM and the Lunar Module, stood 110.6 meters (363 feet) in height. The first stage produced over 33,000 kN of thrust; the third, re-startable, stage delivered over 1,000 kN of thrust. A re-startable engine was needed for mid-course corrections on the way to the Moon.
July 20, 1969 is a date that will, or should, never be forgotten. For the first time in Mankind’s history, footprints were left on a solar system body other than the Earth. Twenty-three others would follow.
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