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America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 2

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The Saturn V awaits its first unmanned test launch at Kennedy Space Center's launch complex 39A. (Source NASA) The Saturn V awaits its first unmanned test launch at Kennedy Space Center's launch complex 39A. (Source NASA)
Former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center poses in front of the Saturn V's five enormous F-1 engines in Huntsville, AL. (Source: NASA) Former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center poses in front of the Saturn V's five enormous F-1 engines in Huntsville, AL. (Source: NASA)
The American flag heralds the flight of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission. The Apollo 11's Saturn V lifted off with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz. Aldrin on July 16, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center. (Source: NASA) The American flag heralds the flight of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission. The Apollo 11's Saturn V lifted off with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz. Aldrin on July 16, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center. (Source: NASA)
The capsule of Apollo 16 is displayed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. The capsule's copper coloring occurred during the extreme temperatures of re-entry. (Source: J. Sebe Dale IV) The capsule of Apollo 16 is displayed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. The capsule's copper coloring occurred during the extreme temperatures of re-entry. (Source: J. Sebe Dale IV)
Atlantis and the crew of STS-135 liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on the final mission of the shuttle program. (Source: scottamillerphoto.com) Atlantis and the crew of STS-135 liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on the final mission of the shuttle program. (Source: scottamillerphoto.com)

(RNN) - From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASA has developed and used many launching vehicles in their 50-year history to hurl men and women into space.

V: The Moon Rocket

On Nov. 9, 1967, towering 363 feet above the flat Florida landscape - twice the height of its predecessor - Wernher von Braun's dream machine made its maiden voyage.

At T-minus 8.9 seconds, thousands of gallons of kerosene and liquid oxygen poured through the Saturn's five enormous F-1 engines. Seconds later, with all engines ignited and burning nearly 15 tons of fuel a second, the ground began to shake.

[Click here to view a slideshow of the Saturn V]

Three miles from Apollo 4's launch pad, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite reported the power of the first Saturn V.

He yelled with excitement during the launch.

"Our building's shaking here … the floor is shaking … this big glass window is shaking, we're holding it with our hands."

The engineers responsible for bringing this beast to life watched fearfully as the nearly 7 million-pound rocket slowly crept skyward.

Apollo 4, the first unmanned test of the Saturn V, was a success and nearly a year later, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to ride the rocket to the moon.

In all, NASA launched 13 Saturn Vs between 1967 and 1973. Nine of these rockets took men to the moon. One was converted into America's first space station, Skylab.

Nearly 40 years since the close of the Apollo program, the Saturn V remains the world's largest rocket ever launched, and the only space vehicle ever to take humans past lower Earth orbit.

The Space Shuttle: A Reusable Space Plane

Less than 3 percent of America's 363-foot tall moon rocket returned to Earth at the close of each mission. The 10-foot-tall Apollo Command Module, packed with three astronauts, was the only thing to return intact.

Only four years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first stepped on the moon, Congress grew tired of funding America's continued conquest of the moon. Budgets were cut and the Apollo program was canceled.

[Click here for a slideshow of the shuttle fleet]

NASA began looking for a reusable, less-costly spacecraft to continue space exploration. The space shuttle was born.

The idea: Launch like a rocket, land like a plane.

The Space Shuttle consists of a seven-person crew in the large payload vehicle called the orbiter; twin reusable solid rocket boosters; and a non-reusable large external tank to fuel the orbiter's three main engines during launch. The design would strap astronauts to lower Earth orbit for the foreseeable future.

Nearly 10 years passed from the last lunar launch to the first test launch of the space shuttle, but on April 12, 1981, the two-man crew of NASA's first shuttle, Columbia, launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, completed 37 orbits, then glided back to Earth, landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

A total of four operational orbiters - Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis - were manufactured for the program. A fifth, Endeavour, was added to the fleet following the explosion of the orbiter Challenger during takeoff in 1986.

Tragedy struck the fleet again in 2005 when Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

The latter part of the 30-year shuttle program focused heavily on engineering rather than space exploration, with the program performing repairs of the Hubble telescope and constructing the International Space Station.

[Click here for Part I of the story]

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  • Atlantis: The last mission comes to an endMore>>

  • America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1

    America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1

    (RNN) - With the retirement of America's last space shuttle just days away, we await the announcement of its replacement. From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASAMore >>
    From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASA has developed and used many launching vehicles in their 50-year history to hurl men and women into space.More >>
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