For many people, their earliest iconic memory is of a parent standing over them or of religious imagery in a church. Maybe it was seeing clouds in the sky or a mountain or tall building for the first time. For me, it was watching the Saturn V rocket on news broadcasts of the Apollo missions to the Moon.
I was only a baby for Apollo 11. But by the time I was old enough to notice — about the age of three and a half — I was hooked. I followed Apollo missions 14 through 17 with an intense fervor unrivaled by anything in my very young life.
In fact, my kindergarten teacher dubbed me the “space reporter” for our class. My father was fully in support and would wake me in the middle of the night to watch transmissions from the lunar surface.
I have vivid memories of astronauts bouncing around — carrying out experiments and cruising the surface with their amazing Lunar Rover. Perhaps the most exciting part was stepping outside at night and pointing at the Moon which, at that very moment, was occupied by members of our human species. It was a thrilling and highly inspirational time.
Beyond witnessing the actual exploration, it was the anticipation of getting there that was perhaps the most intoxicating aspect to me. Before the astronauts could walk on the Moon, that had to get there. Their means of transportation was an enormous, 363-foot tall rocket filled with over 6 million pounds of propellant. It had three stages, each with their own individual rockets. These would fall away in succession as the stack climbed ever higher.
After components were constructed elsewhere, they were shipped to Florida and the Kennedy Space Center where the Saturn V vehicle was assembled. The enormous Vehicle Assemble Building (VAB) would eventually open its doors and reveal the completed ship in all its glory. It would then require nearly a day to roll out to Launch Complex 39 on a huge mobile crawler.
The Saturn V was designed by German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun and constructed by NASA in cooperation with a host of companies including Boeing, North American, and Douglas Aircraft. The Apollo Program at large was a stupendous undertaking that required nearly a decade and cost billions of dollars. Over 500,000 people worked on the project. All of that to get a few guys to the Moon?! Yes! And it was worth every penny. Our world of today would not be the same had it not happened.
Ultimately, while there was a horrible incident within the Apollo One capsule during a test on the pad, not one Saturn launch vehicle failed. The system was ultimately used to loft the Skylab space station into orbit and a scaled down version—the Saturn IB—was used to ferry astronauts on several occasions, including the historic Apollo/Soyuz mission where the Soviets and Americans docked in space as a symbol of peace.
While the Space Shuttle had its appeal, it could not hold a candle to the Saturn V and the majesty of the Apollo Moon launches. I wish there were something as powerful and iconic to inspire today’s generation to look beyond Earthly pursuits and back to the stars.
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