The scientific tourist #79 — comparative rocketry

I thought this shot pretty well sums up the technological progress made during the 1960’s race to the moon:

On the left is a Mercury Redstone rocket (with Mercury capsule mockup), much like the one that launched Alan Shepard on his suborbital flight in 1961. On the right is an F-1 rocket engine, built for the first stage of the Apollo program‘s Saturn V rocket (five F-1 engines were needed for each rocket) and still the most powerful liquid-powered rocket engine ever built.

You can see this for yourself at the Johnson Space Center “Rocket Park,” on the southern edge of Houston, Texas.

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3 Responses to The scientific tourist #79 — comparative rocketry

  1. PhilDS says:

    I heard once that NASA lost the plans to make the Saturn V. Any truth in that?

    • Sam Wise says:

      Depends how you look at it.

      The problem is that in building a beast as big & complex as the Saturn V, there’s no single set of plans. NASA had contractors, and they had subcontractors, and *they* had sub-sub-contractors, etc. After Apollo wound down, many of the “lower-tier” suppliers either went out of business or were purchased by other companies — and there was no way of guaranteeing that all the documentation all the way down was archived “correctly.” So my understanding is that the high-level stuff was saved, but some of the super-detailed paperwork was lost.

      Even if everything had been saved correctly, it would have been of questionable value — no matter how well you document things, much of the knowledge of how parts get made is unavoidably trapped in the heads of the people that build them. Once these folks wander off after a program is shut down, it’s painfully hard to restart things.

  2. Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » The scientific tourist #107 — the F-1 rocket engine

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