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"On This Day" In Engineering History

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December 21, 1968: Saturn V and Apollo 8

Posted December 21, 2006 11:15 AM by Steve Melito

Today is the 38th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first manned mission sent into space aboard a Saturn V rocket. On the morning of December 21, 1968, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent a crew of three astronauts into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch vehicle, a three-stage Saturn V rocket, was developed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center under the direction of Werner von Braun, the German rocket scientist who had led Adolph Hitler's V-2 rocket program. Brought to the United States in the aftermath of World War II, von Braun had worked for the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal, developing Jupiter, Pershing, and Saturn rockets. With the creation of NASA in 1958, von Braun joined the fledgling space agency and later became head of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Werner von Braun's three-stage Saturn V was the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. Taller than a 36 story building, the 363-ft. (111 m) launch vehicle was fueled by liquid propellants and powered by a total of 11 engines. The rocket's first stage used a cluster of five F-1 engines that burned two tons of liquid oxygen (LOX) and one ton of RP-1 (kerosene) per second, generating 7,500,000 pounds (lbs) of total thrust. During their 2.5 minutes of operation, these five F-1 engines burned the propellants at a rate that could empty a 30,000-gallon swimming pool in less than 10 seconds. Saturn V's second stage used a cluster of five J-2 engines that burned both liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to provide 1,250,000 lbs. total thrust. The rocket's third stage used a single J-2 engine that was also fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and that provided 250,000 lbs. of thrust.

The launch of Apollo 8 was marked by only minor problems. During the first stage burn, the five F-1 engines underperformed by 0.75%, causing them to burn for an extra 2.45 seconds. Near the end of the second stage burn, the rocket experienced oscillations that NASA estimated were on the order of 12 Hz and plus or minus 0.25 g (acceleration due to gravity). During the third stage burn, the spacecraft's velocity increased to 35,505 ft/s (10,822 m/s), making Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders the fastest humans in history.

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Re: December 21, 1968: Saturn V and Apollo 8

12/22/2006 8:30 AM

Hey, cool article! BTW - There are some great videos of this stuff up on youtube.

Saturn V Liftoff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn9yM_NoatE

Broadcast from the Moon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnyNXLXl8iA

The "Birth of a Machine" piece is short, but interesting, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILablflBRbc

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