Fifty years ago
Dawn always appears as the primeval hour, one suitable for giants and dinosaurs. And never more than it was fifty years ago. At dawn on August 26, 1967, the first Saturn V moon rocket touched the light of the new sky. At that hour, it began literally inching from the cavernous Vertical Assembling Building at the Kennedy Space Center on the back of its crawler/transporter. Seven months nearly to the day since the fatal Apollo fire, the crawler carried not just the 12.2 million lbs. of rocket and Mobile Launch Platform, but the fate of Apollo itself. A failure of this mission, Apollo 4, an unmanned test, very well could end the Apollo effort.
All day, like a turtle, moving at a half mile per hour, the 364-ft. tall rocket inched 3.5 miles to Pad 39-A. The journey took ten hours, more time than the span of Apollo 4 flight, planned to last slightly more than 8.5 hours. In a daring departure from the past, the Saturn V would be tested “all up,” all stages live, instead of the slow process of testing the first stage repeatedly before adding the second and so on. It would push the spacecraft to an altitude of 11,000 miles, which would use its own engine to drive itself back into the atmosphere at lunar-return speeds of 25,000 miles per hour. If NASA could pull it off.
By evening, the Saturn V, that prehistoric monster, was locked down on the pad, pointing itself into the sky as the stars gathered themselves. Fifty years ago….