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.