Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturn V poster from MSFC

As I woke up this morning, the sad news of Neil Armstrong’s passing was making its way across the Internet.

It seemed fitting to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of a pioneering hero. However, my collection focuses mostly on the Space Shuttle, and I don’t have a single item specific to either of Armstrong’s flights, Gemini 8 or Apollo 11. Therefore, I present the most relevant piece I have—an educational poster produced by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama that describes the mighty Saturn V rocket that would take the Apollo missions to the moon.

Published in 1967, the first launch of the Saturn V was still in the future, to occur in November that year. In a painting by Huntsville artist Albert Lane, the poster depicts the launch vehicle design in something very close to its final configuration, and illustrates the major phases of the flight of the Saturn V:

First stage ignition and launch. At this point, the launch vehicle stood 110 m (363 ft) tall and weighed 2,800 tonnes (6.2 million pounds). Each of its five F-1 engines produced 6.8 MN (1.5 million lb) of thrust.

Built by Boeing, the first stage burned 770,000 litres (200,000 US gal) of RP-1 (kerosene) for 2 minutes 40 seconds, boosting the rocket to 70 km (40 miles) altitude and a speed of 10,000 km/h (6,200 mph).

First stage separation, second stage ignition. The second stage, built by North American Aviation (later, part of Rockwell International, today part of Boeing), burned 980,000 litres (260,000 US gal) of liquid hydrogen in 6 minutes, boosting the rocket the rest of the way into space, to 175 km (110 miles) altitude and a speed of 25,200 km/h (15,600 mph)

Second stage separation, third stage ignition. The third stage, built by Douglas Aircraft Corporation (later, part of McDonnell Douglas, today part of Boeing), burned liquid hydrogen for around 2 minutes 30 seconds to place the spacecraft into Earth orbit at an altitude of 190 km (120 miles).

Third stage restart. The third stage stayed attached to the Apollo spacecraft in orbit for nearly three hours, orbiting the Earth two-and-a-half times before it fired again to boost the spacecraft towards the moon (translunar injection, TLI). The boost lasted 6 minutes and accelerated Apollo to escape velocity of 40,000 km/h (25,000 mph).

Apollo spacecraft separation. Ninety minutes later, the Apollo spacecraft separated from the third stage and continued onwards to the moon.

Here’s the poster’s depiction of the full Saturn V stack, and of the separate stages:

I believe the Apollo program to be the most magnificent achievement of our species to date, and the world has never again seen a rocket the likes of the Saturn V. Its nearest competitor, the N1 built by the Soviet Union for its lunar program, was an abject failure and was mercifully abandoned before a crew was ever placed atop it.

Yet there is hope. NASA is presently at work on a new breed of heavyweight launcher for human exploration beyond low-earth orbit: the SLS (Space Launch System). All going well, this system, together with the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, might see human beings on the moon again in the 2020s: over fifty years after Armstrong’s “one small step.”

Copyright notice: the poster is a work of NASA. As a work of the US federal government, it is in the public domain.


  1. Built by Boeing, the first stage burned 770,000 litres (200,000 US gal) of RP-1 (kerosene) for 2 minutes 40 seconds, boosting the rocket to 70 km (40 miles) altitude and a speed of

    ''2,800 km/h (6,200 mph).''

    Please correct this, thanks

  2. Please visit for the largest selection of Project Apollo photographs. Hand selected by an Apollo enthusiast!

  3. Why astronauts when return from Moon they were so silent?. Forbidden to say: On Moon there are Extraterrestrials, of course forbidden by the religious, because "God" only "is" on Earth. For that reason recent declarations of an astronaut: "We do not can return to Moon".