Ignition! Fifty years ago today, September 30, the five F-1 engines of the final Saturn V built, SA-515, roared to life at NASA’s Mississippi Test Facility. They fired with more with more than 7.5 million pounds of thrust as if lifting Apollo towards the moon, but the stage remained locked in the captive test stand. After a planned 2 min. 55 sec., the engines fell silent. Never to fire again.
SA-515 was originally to launch Apollo 20. By Sept 30, that mission was long canceled. For the next few years, SA-515 was held as a Skylab booster, it’s third stage converted into a backup Skylab space station which some at NASA hoped of flying as a follow-on to the first station, hoped against the budget realities of the early 1970s. A second Skylab never flew.
The forever earthbound first stage now rests in display at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in Mississippi. The backup Skylab is on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The museum pieces serve as monuments to the Apollo Age — and to the budgetary folly that ended that era prematurely.