First motion


The first Saturn V was launched 50 years ago today

The journey that would culminate in the first moon landing twenty months later began precisely at 7:00:00.257 EST on this day, November 9, fifty years ago, with the launch of the first (unmanned) Saturn V.

First motion of the 363-ft.-tall Apollo/Saturn, traveling a distance of just two centimeters, triggered release by the five swing arms attached to the side of the vehicle.  The Saturn V, weighing 6.2 million pounds, balanced for a moment against four hold-down posts.

First motion was the culmination of a countdown that began with a “pre-count” on November 4 leading into the “terminal count” on November 7, which included several planned and unplanned holds.  The last planned hold ended at 3 a.m. on November 9, T-minus four hours and counting.  At T-minus 8.9 seconds, the firing command was sent to the five first-stage F-1 engines, each producing 1.5 million lbs. of thrust.  Huge turbines on each engine spun up, the flow of kerosene and and liquid oxygen began.  At full thrust, each engine consumed almost a ton of kerosene and two tons of liquid oxygen each second.  Combined, they produced as much power as 85 Hoover Dams.  The engines, in a dice-like pattern with one in the center and four in the corners, were started in a staggered sequence to ease shock loads.  The center engine started first, then a quarter second later, a diagonal pair lit, followed a quarter second later by the final set.  All engines reached full thrust by T-minus one second.  Launch commit came less than a half second late, followed in a half second by first motion.

Two centimeters formed the span of the first step of many leading to Neil Armstrong’s small step.  Two centimeters began a journey that would end in December 1972 with the flight of Apollo 17 and remain alive in the imagination to this day and beyond.  Fifty years and counting.




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