Saturn V – One Giant Gadget

Gizmodo has a wonderful post on the anniversary of the first Saturn V launch. Flinging people into space on top of these brutal fire-breathing beasts still seems to be utterly primitive. The technology and scope is mind-bending, but the physics is as dumb as a hammer. That’s what makes the achievement so enchanting to my engineer brain.

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  • At 364 feet high, it was roughly as tall as a 36-story building.
  • Its launch weight of 6.7 million pounds was equal to about 2,200 average late ’60s cars.
  • Its orbital payload of 260,000 pounds is the equivalent of about 1,500 average people.

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If you have more than a passing interest in spaceflight, you should watch In the Shadow of the Moon. My spine tingled as Mike Collins described the experience of sitting inside the Saturn V as it vacillated like a pencil balanced on a fingertip, with the gigantic rocket motors working overtime to keep the rocket pointed upward. The shaking was so brutal that they could barely focus on the readouts.

Some of the best sequences in the film are the elegant slow motion shots (similar to this) of the Saturn V at launch. What that clip doesn’t capture is the noise. You can get an impression of the volume by listening to the crackling brutality in film clips, but like whale song and Formula 1, I’m lead to believe that it is literally indescribable in person.

All of this just strengthens my resolve to see an orbital launch in person before I slip off this mortal coil.