50 years ago…
Fifty years ago this month of November, the Saturn V moon rocket, took to its wings for the very first time. T-minus-Zero of this unmanned flight came at precisely 7 AM Florida time. Walter Cronkite would yell “Our building’s shaking here. Our building’s shaking!” as pieces of his set started to fall apart. But who can blame him, as the most powerful rocket that has ever flown took off a scant 3 1/2 miles away. The USSR’s N-1 moon rocket had about a third more thrust, but out of four launch attempts, the N-1 would fail each time, the first taking out the launch pad. And it is still a year or more before the new SLS launcher heads for the sky with a little more with over 9 million pounds of thrust for its proposed 2018 mission.
The “cornerstone” of the Saturn V, it’s third stage, started its life in April of 1960. With a mere 7 1/2 years later, the Saturn would be poised on launch complex 39A, with its 7.6 million pounds of first stage thrust challenging the early morning sunrise. One wonders how long it would take now, with all of the red tape, environmental impact reports and other nonsense that can stifle projects of this nature. The launch itself was only 6 1/2 years after Alan Shepard became the first American in space.
Note that 50 years before Apollo 4, The Great War was still burning through Europe, we were 12 years away from the stock market crash and talkies, 10 years away from the first demonstration of all-electronic TV, and a scant 14 years after the Write Bros. first flight, and the chance to talk to a Civil War veteran was still pretty easy.
The rocket was outfitted with two movie cameras observing staging of the first stage and the “interstage” falling away. The film was recovered later from packages jettisoned shortly thereafter. This footage would be used thousands of times and can be seen on nearly every any Apollo documentary.
Apollo 4 would also carry a “Block I” Apollo spacecraft. The Block I was designed mainly as an earth orbiting three mainly as follow-on to the two-man Gemini and had no real lunar capabilities. It was also the design that was deadly to the Apollo 1 crew, as they were killed 6 months earlier in “S/C-012” (Spacecraft-012) due to a fire caused by sloppy workmanship and even sloppier quality control. No Block I would ever fly a manned mission as a result. However, this mission the spacecraft (S/C-017) would be outfitted with a Block II heat-shield and slammed into the atmosphere at lunar re-entry speeds. Due to the unmanned nature of the flight, there is very little cultural-memory for Apollo 4, and as such, there have been no flown souvenirs I’ve seen except the item in one of my display shelves.
This little gem is a landing-sequencer from ol’017. Now, what’s a landing sequencer? It is what triggers all of the major landing events, like for example, firing out the parachutes. Needed. This is fairly small, only about 8 inches long, but weighs about 10 lbs. I can’t get into it to figure out what the weight really is from, but still really cool to have in my collection. I hope to eventually land something from Apollo 6 as well. Apollo 5 never returned anything but a film canister and smoldering debris.
And if you want to rock some real-Apollo 4 action, S/C 017 is just waiting for you at the INFINITY Science Center, in Mississippi.