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Apollo 4

Apollo 4 was the first unmanned flight Saturn V launch vehicle. It was also the first flight of the S-IC and S-II stages of the rocket.

Mission Statistics
Mission:AS-501
Launch:November 9, 1967
12:00:01 UTC
Kennedy Space Center LC39A
Landing:November 9, 1967
20:37 UTC
30 06' N 172 32' W
Duration:8 hours
36 minutes, 59 seconds
Orbits: 3
Payload:CSM-017 and LTA-10R

Objectives

This was the first flight of the Saturn V, the largest launch vehicle ever constructed. It was also the first launch from Launch Complex 39 specifically built for the Saturn V. As well as being the first launch of the S-IC first stage and S-II second stage, it would also be the first time that the S-IVB third stage had been restarted in Earth orbit and the first time that the Apollo spacecraft had reentered the Earth's atmosphere at speeds approaching those of a lunar return trajectory. Because of all these firsts there were 4,098 measuring instruments on board the rocket and spacecraft.

This would be the first test of the all-up doctrine. It had been decided in 1963 that instead of testing each component of the rocket seperataly like had been done by Wernher von Braun in Germany during World War Two, the rocket would be test all at once. This cut down on cost, but meant that everything had to work properly first time.

There were two main payloads on board. CSM-017 was a production model of the spacecraft that would take the astronauts to the moon. It was a Block I spacecraft meant for testing the systems, and not the Block II spacecraft that would be actually manned. However it did feature some Block II items such as an improved heatshield and a new hatch. The other payload was LTA-10R which was a model of the Lunar Module carried as ballast but with the same mass distribution as the real thing.

The Pieces Arrive

The first piece of the Apollo 4 to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center was the third stage. This was built by Douglas Aircraft Company and was small enough to be transported by plane, though it was no ordinary plane, being an Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy. The other stages were much larger and had to travel by barge, with the first stage arriving next from Boeing Company at Michoud, Louisiana along the Banana River. The second stage was late in arriving but the rocket was still erected in the Vertical Assembly Building, using a huge barbell shaped spool in the place of the second stage.

The Command and Service Module (CSM) arrived at the Cape on Christmas Eve 1966. And the second stage arrived 12 January 1967. Only 2 weeks later the fire in the Apollo 1 spacecraft occurred pushing all the schedules back. After an inspection of wiring in the CSM found 1,407 problems the launch was pushed back.

The stacking of the S-II took place on 23 February. This was a precision process and supposedly the crane operators could "could conceivably lower the crane hook on top of an egg without breaking the shell". It then had to unstacked after hairline cracks were found in another S-II. Inspection found nothing wrong with the Apollo 4 stage. The CSM was finally ready as well and on 20 June it was mated to the rocket and the whole launch vehicle rolled out of the VAB on 26 August - six months after the originally scheduled launch date.


The Saturn V of Apollo 4
rising from the launch pad (NASA)

Flight

After a testing regime that lasted two months the rocket was finally ready for launch. The propellant started being loaded on 6 November. In total there was 89 trailer-truck loads of
LOX, 28 trailer loads of liquid hydrogen, and 27 rail cars of kerosene.

Although it had been known that the launch would be a site, what happened was unexpected. The ceiling tiles in CBS newsroom that had been constructed at the Cape for the launch started to fall around Walter Cronkite.

The launch was absolutely perfect and placed the S-IVB and CSM into a 185 kilometres orbit. Then after two orbits of the Earth, the S-IVB reignited for the first time in Earth orbit to put the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit with an apogee of more than 17,000 kilometres. The CSM then fired its own engine to send it out to 18,000 kilometres. Once it had passed the furtherest point from Earth, the Service Module engine fired once again to increase the speed of the spacecraft to 40,000 kilometres per hour when it reentered the atmosphere.

It landed 16 km from the target landing site but its descent was visible from the deck of the USS Bennington, the prime recovery vessel.

Capsule Location

The Command Module is on display at the NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

External Links

Preceded by :
Apollo 1
Apollo program Followed by :
Apollo 5