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Thursday, October 27, 2011

50 Years Ago Today: First Saturn 1 launch

Saturn SA-1 launch from LC-34 at Cape Canaveral.

Fifty years ago, NASA achieved one of its major milestones in the Apollo program. From Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first rocket in the Saturn family blasted off. The basic first stage consisted of several Redstone rockets linked together, with a second and third stage assembly filled with water to test weight requirements.

Saturn 1 first stage during assembly.

The basic design of the rocket was under the direction of Werner Von Braun, who had succeeded in launching America's first satellite Explorer 1 on his Jupiter rocket back in 1958. The Saturn 1 used six times the fuel that the Jupiter had used in that flight. The nose cone of the Saturn SA-1 flight was a Jupiter nose cone.

Von Braun and Engineers with Saturn assembly.

LC-34 was constructed with Apollo in mind. A large concrete pad and rocket stand were built on the north end of the Cape Canaveral complex. The pieces for the Saturn 1 arrived in August. The main first stage arrived by barge. During the trip, the barge managed to hit one of the low bridges in the area. Still, assembly went well and fuel began loading on October 26th.

First stage being positioned at LC-34.

One sad note: LC-34 would be the site in 1966 of the Apollo 1 fire, in which three astronauts would perish. THe tower structures on LC34 were enormous compared to Atlas and Gemini structures, due to the height and size of the new rocket.

Saturn SA-1 ready for launch.

By morning of October 27, 1961 all was ready for the launch. There had only been a delay of about one hour. At about 11:06 am (my estimation from UTC) the vehicle lifted off and flew 206 miles downrange over the Atlantic. It reached an altitude of 86 miles before descending. All mission objectives were met.

Von Braun in the firing room bunker, observing the launch through a periscope for safety.

Remaining Concrete structure at Pad LC-34. Picture taken by SpaceRubble Commander.
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