Space Launch Report . . . Saturn Vehicle History 
Home        On the Pad        Space Log/Stats        Library    Links 

NASA studied many Saturn booster concepts, but the agency only developed three during the 1960s. They were Saturn 1, Saturn 1B, and Saturn 5


SA-502A complete three-stage Saturn 5 (formally "Saturn V"), topped by an Apollo payload, stood 102 meters tall, was 10.1 meters in diameter, and weighed 3,038,500 kg at liftoff - as much as twelve 747 passenger transports. Saturn 5 could hurl 118,000 kg to low earth orbit, or 47,000 kg toward the moon. Its five F-1 first stage engines together produced 3,440,310 kgf thrust, enough to create seismic shock waves that could be felt miles away. Saturn 5 represented rocketry on an unprecedented, colossal scale.  

By itself, a fueled Saturn 5 first stage weighed more than the space shuttle stack; including orbiter, solid rocket boosters, and fully fueled external tank combined. In fact, among all of the complete launch vehicles developed before or since, only the Soviet's failed N1 moon launcher weighed more than an S-1C stage. No rocket before or since, including N1, weighed more than a complete Saturn 5.  

Saturn 5's second stage was, by itself, the world's most powerful liquid hydrogen rocket. Nearly 20 years would pass before the Soviet Union's Energia core stage bettered it. 

Hundreds of thousands of workers toiled for years to manufacture, test, and assemble each of the Saturn 5 rockets. The effort required huge new facilities for construction, test, assembly, transport, and launch of Saturn 5 hardware. All of this was in addition to the infrastructure needed to build, test, and assemble Saturn 5's payload - the Apollo Command/Service Module and Lunar Module - to control the missions, and to manage the overall program. At its height, the program accounted for a full 1% of the United States economy. 

Despite an urgent, decade-long, multibillion-dollar effort, NASA purchased only 15 Saturn 5 rockets and launched only 13. The first Saturn 5 flew on 1967 November 9. The last lifted off on 1973 May 14. NASA cancelled Saturn 5 production in August 1968, nearly a year before the first human walked on the moon. Thousands of Project Apollo workers had already lost their jobs by the time the moon landing took place. Thousands more were furloughed during the ensuing months. Stages for the final two Saturn 5s were completed, test fired, and stored by the end of 1970. NASA accepted the final piece of flight hardware, S-2-15, from North American Aviation in November 1970. 

The Moon Landing Decision 

Wernher von Braun set the stage for the giant launch vehicle's creation, and ultimate demise, when he wrote his famous April 29, 1961 letter to Vice President Johnson in answer to questions posed by President Kennedy. 

In his letter, von Braun told the President that he believed the U.S. could, with maximum effort, land a man on the moon by 1967 or 1968, a feat he believed the Soviet Union could not achieve during the same time frame. Von Braun said the goal could be achieved if the U.S. developed a new booster that was at least twice as powerful as the then-in-development Saturn C1. He also recommended that elements of the U.S. space program not directly related to the lunar landing goal be put on the "back burner".  

Ultimately, von Braun's new booster evolved into Saturn 5, a rocket custom-designed to achieve only one specific goal - Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon before 1970. It achieved that goal remarkably well, but the rocket turned out to be too costly for continued use once the Apollo objective had been achieved. Whether von Braun expected his estimated timetable to become a national goal is not known. In the end, however, it did become necessary to put other programs on the "back burner" as he recommended. The result was an all-but-shuttered U.S. space program during the post-Apollo late 1970s. 

Saturn 5 was not created after years of study and careful design.  Instead, the world's most powerful rocket was conceived in a hurry during the Fall of 1961.  The design was a direct response to U.S. President John F. Kennedy's unexpected May 1961 decision to land men on the moon by 1970. 

The decision surprised many, even in NASA.  At the time, NASA Apollo-program planning called for the establishment of an Earth orbiting space station by 1970 using Marshall Space Flight Center's (MSFC's) Saturn C1 and C2 boosters.  Saturn C2 would also be used to boost modestly sized (~6,800 kg) Apollo "Lunar Mission Modules" carrying three astronauts on circumlunar flights.  A 4,500 kg Apollo "Space Laboratory" could be added during earth orbital missions, or Saturn C1 could be used to put the smaller Apollo into earth orbit.   

Prior to Kennedy's call, most plans called for possible direct ascent manned lunar landings after 1970 using the still-to-be-defined NOVA launch vehicle.  Other plans promoted by von Braun's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) called for earth orbital rendezvous (EOR) missions using numbers of C2 boosters.  

Saturn C-2 to C-3 

In early 1961, contractor studies recommended heavier Apollo designs for improved heat and radiation shielding.  A circumlunar "Apollo B" now was envisioned as a conical Command Module mounted atop a cylindrical Service Module with a weight totaling 11,300 kg.  NOVA would carry an "Apollo C" model for lunar landings.  A lighter "Apollo A" version was still planned for low earth orbit missions, but the changes meant that Saturn C-2 was no longer powerful enough for the circumlunar mission.  

In May 1961, MSFC dropped C-2 in favor of a Saturn C-3 design.  C-3 was basically a C-2 with a new first stage powered by two 680,272 kgf thrust kerosene/LOX Rocketdyne F-1 engines.  Atop would be an S-2 second stage with four 90,703 kgf thrust LH2/LOX Rocketdyne J-2 engines, an S-4 third stage with six 6,803 kgf thrust LH2/LOX Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engines and, when needed, an S-5 fourth stage powered by two RL-10 engines.  

Rocketdyne's F-1 engine was a key hardware element driving the 1961 Saturn design process. Under development by North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division since 1958, the first full size F-1 thrust chamber test had occurred on April 6, 1961 at Edwards Air Force Base. Kennedy knew he had the big engine in hand when he made his Moon speech the following month.  With F-1 progressing well, Marshall designers were able to begin detailed study of F-1 powered Saturn concepts. 

Saturn C-3 would weigh about 1,023,700 kg at liftoff and would boost 36,280 kg into low earth orbit or 13,605 kg to escape velocity.  Soon, a totally new launch site on Merritt Island, just northwest of the Cape, was being designed to support C-3 salvo launches for Marshall's planned EOR Apollo missions.  At least four or five C-3 launches would be needed for a single EOR lunar landing mission.   

In September 1961, North American Aviation won the contract to build Saturn C-3's S-2 stage. Marshall engineers were, however, already hard at work on a massive all-new Saturn called C-4.  

C-4 Emerges  

Saturn C-4 evolved when designers started looking at enlarged S-4 stage designs for Saturn C-2 and C-3.  S-4 could carry more propellant if its tapered LH2 tank was changed to a simple, lengthened cylinder.  Soon, they realized that if the stage was going to be redesigned extensively, it might as well be repowered with a single J-2 engine.  This line of thinking led to the development of an almost entirely new design, designated S-4B.    

By November 1961, MSFC had abandoned the C-3, the S-4 and the S-5 stages in favor of an entirely new design, an unprecedented monster of a rocket named C-4.  C-4 had three entirely new stages. Four F-1 engines, totaling 2,721,090 kgf  thrust, powered the first stage, which was called S-1B at the time. The enlarged S-2 stage still had four J-2 engines, but the new S-4B, now powered by a single J-2, would serve as the 76 meter-tall rocket's third stage.  The rocket would weigh more than 2,050,000 kg at liftoff.  It would boost 95,000 kg to LEO or 31 kg toward the moon.    

Saturn Design Evolution

Saturn C-4 was the first rocket designed specifically to meet Kennedy's manned lunar landing timetable.  Since NOVA could not be developed before 1970, the direct ascent option was off the table.  Two Saturn C-4 launches could, however, support an earth orbit rendezvous (EOR) mission that would send a combined lander/return vehicle to the moon.  A third option, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR), also emerged during 1961.  

LOR divided the mission into specific functions and used an optimally designed piece of hardware for each function.  A lightweight Lunar Module (LM), consisting of separate descent and ascent components, would land on the moon instead of a top heavy Apollo CSM and landing stage.  When the LM's job was complete, it would be discarded to save weight for the return to earth.  

The concept, which originated at NASA's Langley Center and gained support at NASA's new Manned Spaceflight Center, gradually won over von Braun at Marshall because it could be accomplished with only a single C-4 launch and therefore stood a better chance of meeting Kennedy's deadline.  Von Braun did not agree to LOR until April 1962, however.   

Most Marshall engineers were reluctant to abandon EOR because it meant that Marshall would not develop a space station.  Von Braun insisted, however, that his delayed decision was not part of a "turf war" with the other NASA centers.  Rather, he said, NASA had previously only assigned EOR mission studies to MSFC, so the center had to spend time "catching up" with LOR before agreeing to it.   

In December 1961, NASA awarded the C-4 contracts. Boeing would build the S-1B stage at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Douglas would build S-4B stages in California, with final assembly at its new Huntington Beach site.   North American Aviation's existing S-2 stage contract, awarded in September 1961 for the bypassed Saturn C-3 design, was modified for C-4.  NAA would build S-2 stages at Seal Beach, California.  

Saturn C-5 Finalized 

SA-500FIn January 1962, NASA added a fifth F-1 engine to the first stage and a fifth J-2 engine to the second stage. The modified design was named C-5.  The new design would be able to put 120,000 kg in LEO and propel 41,000 kg to escape velocity, about six times more than Saturn C-2.  

Original plans called for contractors to plan to build 25 flight vehicles. There would be at least four unmanned tests, performed in a careful sequence. The first flight would use a live first stage and dummy upper stages. The second flight would include a live second stage. Only after successful lower stage test flights would a completely live vehicle fly on the third mission. The fourth flight would be an unmanned circumlunar mission. The first manned Saturn 5 mission would not occur until 1969. 

These plans changed in mid-1962, after NASA adopted the LOR mode.  In a departure from past practices, NASA also decided to use an aggressive "all-up" testing philosophy to speed up the schedule. Saturn would fly from the outset with a complete set of active flight stages. 

In June 1962, MSFC announced that the S-4B stage would be tested and flown first as a second stage atop an uprated Saturn C-1 first stage.  The new rocket was named Saturn C-1B. The uprated first stage was designated S-1B. As a result, Boeing's C-5 first stage now became S-1C  In early 1963, NASA finally dropped the Silverstein Committee Saturn "C" designations.  Saturn C-5 became Saturn 5 and Saturn C-1B became Saturn 1B.  The S-2 and S-4B stage designs were changed during this period so that Saturn 5 could carry 118,000 kg to LEO and 47,000 kg to escape velocity.   

The changes meant that only two unmanned Saturn 5 launches would be needed. The first manned Saturn 5 mission would be used to test a Lunar Module in earth orbit. A lunar landing would take place on the fourth or fifth mission. NASA now only needed 12 Saturn 1B and 15 Saturn 5 vehicles for Apollo.  

Post-Apollo Plans and the end of Saturn 

NASA projected that it would eventually need more Saturns for post-Apollo missions, but these missions remained ill-defined throughout the mid-1960s. They went by various names, such as "Apollo-X", "AES", and "Apollo Applications". They included extended lunar landing missions, manned lunar orbiting missions, earth orbiting space stations, and a "Voyager" program that would send two unmanned landers to Mars. By mid 1965, NASA planned to purchase 18 more Saturn 1B and 10 more Saturn 5 vehicles for post-Apollo missions.  

The Vietnam-era funding squeeze ended these dreams, however. In November 1965, NASA was forced to shrink its post-Apollo plans. It canceled development of the Saturn 1B/Centaur launcher that would have launched Voyager, assigning the mission instead to a new-order Saturn 5. Voyager itself was cancelled the following year, but NASA continued to request funding to start construction of the 16th and 17th Saturn 5 vehicles, SA-516 and SA-517 during 1966 and 1967 along with three more Saturn 1B vehicles. When 1967 passed without funding, however, NASA was forced to plan for at least a one-year shut down of Saturn 5 production. Saturn 5 had about a 42 month production lead-time, and SA-515 completion was expected in 1970. 

The death sentence finally came in 1968. NASA was forced to kill all plans for future Saturn production in August of that year, including early procurement for SA-516, SA-517, and Saturn 1Bs SA-215 and SA-216. The end came weeks before the first manned Apollo 7 mission and months before the third Saturn 5 propelled three Apollo 8 astronauts into lunar orbit.  

Soon after the successful Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969, NASA shelved plans for an Apollo 20 mission. Instead, a two-stage Saturn 5 was assigned to orbit an Apollo Applications "Dry Workshop". Several Saturn 1B rockets would carry crews to the station. Plans eventually called for SA-513 to orbit the workshop, which was renamed "Skylab" in 1970. SA-514 and SA-515 would launch Apollo 18 and 19, respectively, after the Skylab program ended. 

After Apollo 11, Kennedy Space Center cut 5,600 of its 23,600 jobs. Before, it had had two full Saturn 5 checkout crews and one partial crew, three launch control centers, three VAB high bays, and three mobile launchers capable of supporting five launches per year. Now VAB High Bay 2, LCC Firing Room 3, LC39B, and one mobile launcher were mothballed after having been used only once. With one full and one partial checkout crew, KSC would henceforth support only two launches per year.  

Funding grew so tight that the agency finally could not even afford to launch the rockets it had on hand. The last two Apollo missions were canceled and SA-515 was assigned to stand by as a backup Skylab launcher if the first launch failed. Unremarked SA-513 orbited Skylab in 1973, and Saturn 5 became a part of history. 

S-1C Stage  

S-IC-503 at VABDuring 1962, hundreds of Boeing and MSFC engineers worked on the detailed first stage design in joint offices at Marshall.  Other groups prepared for parts manufacturing at Boeing's Wichita plant and for assembly production at Michoud.  It would be the von Braun group's crowning achievement in rocket design.  MSFC insisted on assembling two S-1C test stages, and the first two S-1C flight stages, in-house.  

The S-1C (formally "S-IC") design was structurally simple, but complex in its massive scale.  The stage consisted of five basic components.  The aft thrust structure supported and transferred forces from the five powerful F-1 engines.  The outer four engines gimbaled to provide pitch, roll, and yaw control while the center engine did not move. The engines were mounted to a pair of X-configured crossbeams at the base of the thrust structure.  The thrust structure transferred force from the engines to the base of a 130,000 liter cylindrical RP-1 (refined kerosene) fuel tank.  An intertank section supported a 1,204,000-liter liquid oxygen (LOX) tank atop the fuel tank.  Five 17-inch diameter LOX tunnels carried LOX feed lines straight through the fuel tank. A forward skirt mounted on to top of the LOX tank supported the second stage.  The tanks were made out of welded 2219 aluminum panels.  The intertank, skirt, and thrust structures were corrugated skin and stringer designs made out of 7075 aluminum.  

S-1C was 42.1 meters long and 10.1 meters in diameter.  It weighed 135,218 kg empty and 2,286,217 kg fully fueled.  Its five F-1 engines produced a total thrust of 3,440,310 kgf at liftoff and 3,946,624 kgf in vacuum.  

The S-1C engines ignited in a 1-2-2 sequence with 300 millisecond stagger times. The center engine ignited first, followed by opposing pairs of outer engines. When the engines built up to full thrust, four hold down arms released the rocket. Hold down times varied from 8.9 seconds for early launches to about 6.5 seconds for later launches.  Saturn 5 rose slowly from the launch platform. During the first few seconds, the rocket steered slightly off vertical to ensure clearance of the launch umbilical tower. Then, the rocket would perform a pitch and roll maneuver to align itself with the flight azimuth. At the T+69 second mark, Saturn 5 would accelerate through the region of maximum dynamic pressure.  

At 135.5 seconds, the center F-1 engine would shut down, followed a few moments later by the outer four engines. Eight solid fuel retrorockets would fire, blowing off the top of the engine fairings, 0.6 seconds after engine shutdown. First stage separation occurred at an altitude of 38.8 miles at a speed of about 6,000 mph. After separation, the first stage would coast to a peak of about 69 miles before falling, engine end first, into the Atlantic about 350 miles from Cape Canaveral.  

S-2 Stage 

S-II-2 at VABNorth American Aviation's S-2 (formally "S-II") stage was the most difficult Saturn 5 stage to build. Its five Rocketdyne J-2 LOX/LH2 engines produced 526,764 kgf of total thrust for up to 390 seconds. Despite its power, S-2 had one of the smallest "mass fractions" of any rocket. The stage weighed only 39,048 kg empty, but carried 451,730 kg of propellant. 

S-2 consisted of a 10.1 meter diameter, 4.98 meter long interstage, a 2.21 x 10.1 meter aft skirt/thrust structure assembly, a 6.7 meter tall, 10.1 meter LOX tank topped by a huge 10.1 meter diameter LH2 tank, and a 2.52 x 10.1 meter forward skirt. The interstage and skirts were of aluminum skin and stringer construction. The tanks were made from sheets of 2014 T6 aluminum, which were very strong and light, but were difficult to weld together. Tank domes were elliptical, rather than hemispherical, in shape - a design that reduced weight but added complexity.  The two tanks shared a common bulkhead consisting of two face sheets separated by an insulating layer.  The bulkhead turned out to be especially difficult to manufacture. S-2 was 24.8 meters long. 

A critical problem was insulating the big LH2 tank, especially at the common bulkhead.  Initial stages used exterior insulation panels.  Later, NAA developed a spray-on foam insulation technique.  

The interstage was a "dual plane separation" design. At staging, the first stage would separate from the bottom of the interstage. Separation rockets would fire upward from the base of the S-1C stage while eight small ullage rockets mounted on the interstage would fire to thrust the S-2 stage ahead. After a few seconds, the second stage engines would ignite. Thirty seconds after first stage separation, the interstage would fall away from the S-2 stage. There was one meter of clearance between the interstage and the outer J-2 engines.  

The outer four J-2 engines gimbaled to provide roll, pitch, and yaw control. The center engine did not move.

S-4B Stage

S-IVB-501 at SACTOSaturn 1B and Saturn 5 shared the same S-4B (formally "S-IVB") upper stage, which evolved from the Saturn 1 S-4 stage. Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured the stage in its Huntington Beach, California factory, using parts fabricated in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California.

 Like S-4, S-4B used liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel and liquid hydrogen (LOX) oxidizer. Both stages used a common bulkhead between their aft LOX and forward LH2 tanks. Both were made from 2014-T6 aluminum with waffle patterns machined into the tank skins to reduce weight, and both used internal insulation panels that were epoxy-fitted to the interior of the LH2 tank.  Tank bulkheads were hemispherical, an inherently stronger design than the elliptical shape used by the S-2 stage.

Differences between S-4 and S-4B included size, shape, and propulsion. S-4B was powered by a single Rocketdyne J-2 engine that could produce 104.3 metric tons of thrust in vacuum, substantially more than the 40.8 metric tons of thrust provided by the S-4 stage's six RL10 engines. S-4B was 6.6 meters in diameter and 18.8 meters tall. The stage weighed 120.5 metric tons loaded and 15.2 tons empty. It carried 18 metric tons of LH2 (252,750 L) and 87.2 metric tons of LOX (73,280 L).

The stage consisted of six major structural components. They were the aft interstage, the aft skirt, the conical thrust structure, the cylidrical propellant tank, the hemispherical common bulkhead, and the forward skirt. A single J-2 engine, mounted on the thrust structure, provided primary propulsion. Mounted on the aft skirt were two auxiliary propulsion modules (APS), which provided roll control during powered flight and total attitude control during coast phases, and two solid rocket ullage rocket motors, which settled propellants prior to the J-2 restart.

The common bulkhead consisted of two aluminum domes separated by a fiberglass honeycomb core. The propellant tank was built up from seven vertical aluminum segments. The interstage and skirt assemblies consisted of aluminum skin panels with external aluminum stringer stiffeners.

The liquid hydrogen tank was fitted with internal insulation. One of the reasons Douglas chose to use internal insulation was that the design was completed when an Earth Orbit Rendezvous mode was under consideration for Apollo. EOR would have required S-4B stages to be stored in low earth orbit for weeks at a time.

Cold helium, stored in tanks inside the LH2 tank and on the outside of the thrust skirt, were used to pressurize the propellant tanks. During the coast phase, LOX tank pressure was allowed to fall and the LH2 tank was self-pressurized, with boiloff vented. Prior to restart, a LOX/LH2burner was used to expand the helium from the internal tanks once again into the main tanks to provide pressurization. A backup "ambient" system based on the external tanks was provided that did not depend on the burner.

 J-2 engine gimbaling was provided by a hydraulic actuator system. A hydraulic pump was driven by the J-2 oxidizer turbopump shaft to pressurize the system. A backup electrically driven pump could take over in case the primary pump failed.

The APS modules burned nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer and monomethyl hydrazine fuel. Each module had two roll/yaw engines, one pitch engine, and one aft-facing ullage engine that was used to settle propellants during the orbital phase of flight. Two separate high-thrust, 4-second burn solid rocket ullage motors were used to settle propellants during separation of the second and third stages.

During flight, the first S-4B burn would last about 2.5 minutes to put itself and the Apollo stack into a temporary low earth orbit. After a two orbit, 90 minute coast phase, the stage would reignite for the trans lunar injection burn that would last nearly six minutes. After the Apollo CSM separated and extracted the LM from the stage, S-4B would use its APS ullage motors to maneuver away. Once clear of Apollo, the S-4B would vent its LH2 tank and dump its LOX tank. A final APS ullage burn would direct the stage toward either a lunar impact or a solar orbit. Several S-4B stages continue to orbit the sun today.

Prototypes for Testing 


S-IC Assembly at MichoudIn 1962, Marshall began construction of S-1C-C, a full scale wooden mockup of the S-1C stage.  In 1963, Marshall began building S-1C-T, the initial "All Systems Test" version of the Saturn 5 first stage.  The stage, known as the "T-Bird", would be a flight-weight stage used for static propulsion tests.  Initial work focused on the fuel tank.  Schedules called for a 14 month production effort, but faulty welding of the huge tank section forced some initial work to be scrapped, causing the schedule to slip significantly by early 1964. 

Marshall began building the S-1C-S "Structural" test stage, which consisted of components never fully assembled, during 1963-64. S-1C-S was built without engines and used to test the strength of the design in a series of load tests in MSFC test stands.

Boeing's Michoud crews initially built a full scale mockup of the S-1C thrust structure.  Marshall built its stages in horizontal jigs, but Boeing used a new vertical assembly high bay at Michoud.  Boeing's first build was the S-1C-D "Dynamic" test stage. Equipped with one real and four simulated F-1 engines, it was used as part of a complete "Dynamic" Saturn 5 used for vibration and load tests at Marshall. Assembly of S-IC-D began in 1964.   Next, Michoud built the S-1C-F "Facilities" first stage, equipped with one real and four simulated F-1s.  Assembled during 1965, S-1C-F would be used to test brand new Kennedy Space Center launch facilities during 1966 as part of the SA-500F facilities test vehicle. 


North American assembled S-2 stages in vertical bays at its Seal Beach, California plant. Original plans called for "T", "S", "F", and "D" test stages, to be used like their S-1C counterparts. Construction began on the S-2-T stage first, sometime in 1963, but welding problems quickly delayed the schedule by months. It was finally delivered to the new Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) in early 1965 for a series of static propulsion tests. The S-2-S stage was not delivered to North American's Santa Susana test facility for structural testing until mid 1965. The S-2-F stage was completed and shipped to KSC in late 1965. 

In mid-1965, NASA managers decided to cancel production of the S-2-D stage. This allowed North American to begin construction of S-2-1, the first flight stage, in July 1965. The S-2-S stage, now called S-2-S/D, was assigned to dynamic testing once its structural tests were complete. 

On September 29, 1965, the S-2-S/D stage was destroyed during a dynamic load test at Seal Beach. The stage had been filled with water for the test. Water is much denser than LH2, and the extra weight caused the stage to suffer structural failure.  


S-4B was assembled in the Vehicle Tower Complex at Huntington Beach. The Complex had six vertical assembly/test bays that could hold a complete stage. Some bays were outfitted with assembly towers. Some had checkout towers.

Acceptance testing of completed stages occurred at the company's Sacramento Test Operations facility (SACTO). There, stages were test fired in Test Stand 1 or Test Stand 3 at the facility's Beta Complex. SACTO also had a set of vertical checkout towers for S-4B stages.

S-4B stages were transported between Huntington Beach, SACTO, and Kennedy Space Center by "Pregnant Guppy" aircraft.

Douglas began assembly of the S-4B Battleship stage at SACTO in the fall of 1963. Simultaneously, the company began construction of an S-4B LH2 test tank at Huntsville for use in J-2 engine tests. Its Huntington Beach S-4B factory didn't open until November 1963.

Rocketdyne completed the first long-duration test of the J-2 engine on November 27, 1963.

During early 1964, Douglas began fabricating Hydrostatic, All-Systems, and Dynamic S-4B test articles. In addition, work began on the first two flight stages. In April, Douglas completed the S-4B structural test stage. During mid-1964, Douglas had to rework the S-4B Battleship stage. It did not complete propellant loading tests until mid-1964. The delay caused Marshall to cancel the S-4B-T flight-weight All Systems stage. Completed hardware for the stage was converted for use in the "F" facilities check out stage.  

The battleship stage auxiliary propulsion system was test fired for the first time at SACTO during November 1964. The main propulsion system was test fired on November 24. The first full-duration firing occurred on December 23. Saturn 1B-S-4B Battleship testing concluded with a hot-gimbal, full-duration test firing on May 4, 1965.

After that, technicians converted the stage into a Saturn 5-S-4B test article. Test firings began in June, 1965. A July 1 test ended in an explosion and fire that damaged wiring and instrumentation. The site was repaired and stage testing concluded with a two-burn test of 170 and 360 seconds on August 20. Additional Saturn 5 S-4B battleship testing took place at Marshall using separate Battleship hardware built for the Center.

On December 8, 1964, Douglas shipped S-4B-D, the dynamic test stage, to Marshall where, in early 1965, it was erected atop the S-1B dynamic stage in the 200 foot tall Dynamic Test Stand.

The S-4B-F Facilities stage was delivered to Sacramento for testing March 1965, then to Cape Canaveral in May 1965 for checkout of Saturn 1B launch facilities. 

Douglas completed S-4B-201, the first flight stage, in February 1965. It was transported to SACTO on May 6, where it was erected in the Beta 3 Test Stand. On August 8, the stage performed a full-duration 452 second test firing. S-4B-201was shipped to KSC in September. Stage production and testing continued serially after that.

The first Saturn 5 S-4B flight stage, S-4B-501, was completed on January 28, 1966. The stage was test fired at SACTO during May and was flown to KSC on August 12-14. Saturn 5 S-4B acceptance tests consisted of a 150 second burn, a 90 minute shutdown period, and a 291 second second burn. The test simulated a lunar mission.

On January 20, 1967, the S-4B-503 flight stage exploded just before it was to be test fired at SACTO. The explosion destroyed the stage and severely damaged Test Stand Beta 3. The failure was caused by an improper weld on a helium storage sphere mounted on the engine thrust structure of the stage. The stage was replaced by an entirely new stage, designated S-4B-503N, that went on to fly during the historic Apollo 8 mission. That the explosion occurred on a test stand rather than during a flight showed the importance of the acceptance testing process.


Each expendable Saturn 5 cost $135 million in 1967 dollars. This seemed particularly wasteful during the troubled late 1960s. Of the 13 Saturn 5 vehicles that were laboriously constructed, tested, and launched at enormous cost, only four or five third stages probably remain intact, racing through uncertain solar orbits. All of the first stages smashed into the Atlantic several hundred kilometers from the Florida coast. The second stages also fell into the Atlantic, probably after breaking apart while reentering the atmosphere. Some of the third stages were deliberately crashed into the moon. Others reentered the earth’s atmosphere. At least one reentered in pieces after exploding in orbit.  

Only the two uncommitted Saturn 5s, along with some non-flight prototype stages, remain. In addition, NASA and its contractors still use much of the extensive manufacturing, testing, launch, and mission control infrastructure in places like Florida, Houston, Mississippi, Alabama, and California. 

For years after Apollo, the phrase "If we can land men to the moon, why can't we do this ordinary thing" was oft spoken. Only a few used the phase with accurate ironic intent. The rest chose to ignore the truth. We could not, after all, land men on the moon after 1972 once Saturn 5 was cancelled, its remnants put on public display.  

Flight Hardware  


Saturn 5 Apollo Test Summary  



BMAF = Boeing at Michoud Assembly Facility, LA
CSM = Command/Service Module
JSC = Johnson Space Center, TX
KSC = Kennedy Space Center, FL
MDAC = McDonnell Douglas Astronautics
MTF = Mississippi Test Facility
MSFC = Marshall Space Flight Center, AL
NAA = North American Aviation (Later Rockwell)
SACTO = Sacramento Test Operations, CA
USSRC = U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
VAB = Vehicle Assembly Building

Saturn 5 Design:  

First Stage: S-1C powered by 5 x 680,272 kgf thrust LOX/RP-1 Rocketdyne F-1 engines. Built by Marshall/Boeing at Huntsville and by Boeing at Michoud Assembly Facility. S-1C had four engine fairings with fins.  

Second Stage: S-2 stage powered by 5 x 90,703 kgf thrust LOX/LH2 Rockedyne J-2 engines. S-2 stage and aft interstage built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California.  

Third Stage: S-4B stage powered by 1 x 90,703 kgf thrust Rocketdyne LOX/LH2 J-2 engine mounted on conical thrust structure. S-4B and S-2/S-4B interstage built by McDonnell Douglas Aircraft at Huntington Beach, California.  

Instrument Unit: Saturn 5 controlled by cylindrical S-IU instrument unit mounted atop S-4B stage. NASA/MSFC built the S-IU in Huntsville.  

S-1C Test Stages: 

S-1C-T: "All systems" test stage, known as "T-Bird". Built by MSFC. First S-1C assembled. Construction began 1963. Completed early 1965. Equipped with 5 F-1 engines. Used in static propulsion tests at MSFC. Erected in S-1C test stand March 1, 1965. First fired April 15, 1965. First full duration test August 15, 1965. Fifteeen tests altogether. Moved to MTF to test new S-1C test stand October 1965. First test on 3-3-1967. Returned to MSFC March 1967. Additional static tests at MSFC through at least August 1967. Stage accumulated a grand total of at least 22 test firings. [Now displayed at KSC Saturn 5 Center, in a modified paint scheme meant to mimic S-1C-6].  

S-1C-S: Structural test stage, never assembled components without engines. Second S-1C built by MSFC. Built 1963-1965. Used for structural load testing at MSFC in 1965. [Scrapped].  

S-1C-F: Facilities test stage with one dummy F-1 engine and four engine mass simulators. Second S-1C built by Boeing/Michoud (BMAF) 1963-1965. Shipped to KSC from MAF January 1966 for facility testing as part of SA-500-F vehicle. Rolled out to LC39A on 5-25-1966. Returned to MSFC and stored on lot. [Scrapped]. 

S-1C-D: Dynamic test stage with one dummy F-1 engine and and four dynamic engine mass simulators. First S-1C built by Boeing at Michoud 1964-1965. Shipped to MSFC in October 1965 for dynamic testing as part of full three-stage SA-500-D vehicle. Erected in Dynamic Test Stand January 31, 1966. Tested with spacer S-2 and S-4B-D during 1966. Tested with S-2-F/D and full Saturn 5 for 10 weeks during spring of 1967. Shipped to MTF in April 1967 for facilties test purposes. Returned to MSFC in 1968. [Now displayed at U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville].  


S-2 Test Stages: 

S-2-T: "All systems" test stage. Built by NAA at Seal Beach 1963-1965. Completed 2-9-1965. Moved to Santa Susana for static propulsion tests. First cluster ignition test on 4-24-1965. First full duration test on 8-9-1965. Shipped to Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) October 1965 for static testing on new A-2 test stand. First test 4-23-1966. Completed full duration test in late May, but S-2-T was destroyed at MTF on 5-28-1966 by accidental LH2 tank overpressurization.  

S-2-S/D: Structural test stage built by NAA/Seal Beach 1963-1965. Was also to perform dynamic test duties as replacement for cancelled S-2-D stage, but was destroyed at Seal Beach on 9-29-1965 during a hydrostatic load test with water loaded in the propellant tanks. 

S-2-F/D: Facilities test stage built by NAA/Seal Beach 1964-66. Completed 2-20-1966. Shipped to KSC for facility testing as part of SA-500-F vehicle in February 1966. Rolled out to LC39A on 5-25-1966. Reassigned for use as dynamic test stage at MSFC after S-2-S/D was destroyed, returning to MSFC November 1966. Part of SA-500-D in Dynamic Test Stand during early 1967. [Now displayed at USSRC].  

S-2-D: Dynamic test stage. Cancelled in 1965 due to schedule slips. 


S-4B Test Stages:  

(S-4B was tested during Saturn 1B development program, so the following list is a repeat from the Saturn 1B Test Stage Summary) 

S-4B-S: Battleship static test article with heavier gauge stainless steel tanks. Used for early tests of propellant and propulsion systems at Sacramento Test Operations (SACTO). Assembly completed mid 1964. Static testing began September 1964 at SACTO test stand.  

S-4B-T: Flight-weight "all systems" static test article with aluminum tanks. Cancelled while in production in December 1964. Tanks converted to "F" facilities check out stage (see below). Would have been used to test propellant and propulsion systems.  

S-4B-D: Dynamic test article used for structural tests at MSFC, possibly stacked as an entire dynamic test vehicle with an S-1B-D stage. Assembly completed in 1964. Arrived MSFC January 1965. Used for SA-500-D testing in 1967. [Now displayed at USSRC]. 

S-4B-F: Facilities test article without J-2 engine used to check out LC34 and LC37B at Cape Canaveral in 1965 and LC39 at KSC in late 1965 to 1966. Assembly completed early 1965. Delivered to Sacramento for testing March 1965, then to Cape in May 1965. Converted for SA-500F tests Fall 1965. 


Ground Test Vehicles: 

SA-500-F: (S-1C-F/S-2-F(D)/S-4B-500F(200F)/S-IU-500F(200F)) Facilities Integration Vehicle. Used for KSC facilities testing. Stacked on ML1 in VAB Bay 1 with Apollo spacecraft facilities verification vehicle boilerplate. S-IU mated 3-30-1966. Rolled out to LC39A on May 25, 1966. Rolled back June 1966 due Hurricane Alma. Rolled back to pad 7-20-1966. MSS rolled to pad 7-22-1966. LOX loading tests, etc through September. Stack rolled back and demated mid-October, 1966.  

SA-500-D: (S-1C-D/S-2-F(D)/S-4B-D/S-IU-D) Dynamic Test Vehicle. Assembled in dynamic test stand at MSFC for 10 weeks of full vehicle dynamic vibration testing in early 1967. S-1C-D was erected in stand January 13, 1966. S-4B-D was added with an S-2 "spacer" for some tests until S-2-F/D arrived in November 1966. 


Saturn 5 Flight Vehicles:  


SA-501: Apollo 4.  

Unmanned 3-orbit mission with CSM-017/LTA-10R. Vehicle initially erected with "spacer" S-2 11/66. Destack and erected with S-2-1 2/67. Destacked for S-2 checks and restacked 6/67. VAB rollout 8-26-1967 to LC39A. Liftoff 11-9-1967. 

S-1C-1: MSFC 1964-66. MSFC tests 2/66. To KSC 9-12-1966. 

S-2-1: NAA 1965-66. To MTF 7/66. Delays due cracks. MTF tests in A-2 stand 12/66. KSC 1-21-1967. 

S-4B-501: MDAC 1965-66. SACTO tests May 1966. To KSC 8-14-1966. 

S-IU-501: MSFC 1965-66. To KSC 8-25-1966. 


SA-502: Apollo 6.  

Unmanned 3-orbit mission with CSM-020/LTA-2R. VAB rollout 1967 to LC39A. Liftoff 4-4-1968. S-4B failed to restart. Mission Failure. 

S-1C-2: MSFC 1964-1966. MSFC tests 6/66. To KSC 3-13-1967. 

S-2-2: NAA 1965-1966. MTF tests 3/67. To KSC 5-24-1967. 

S-4B-502: MDAC 1965-1966. SACTO tests 7/66. To KSC 2-21-1967. 

S-IU-502: MSFC 1965-1966. To KSC 3-20-1967. 


SA-503: Apollo 8.  

Manned lunar orbit mission with CSM-103/LTA-B. Stacked 12/67-2/68. Destacked for S-2 removal 4/68. Restacked with retested S-2 7/68-8/68. Rollout to LC39A 10-9-68. Liftoff 12-21-1968. 

S-1C-3: BMAF 1965-1966. BMAF rollout 3/23/66. To MSFC 9/66. Static tests 11/66. To MAF 11/66. To KSC 12-27-1967. 

S-2-3: NAA 1965-1967. MTF tests mid 1967. To KSC 12-24-1967. To MTF 5/68 for pogo fix recertification tests. Returned to KSC 6/68. 

S-4B-503N: MDAC 1966-1967. SACTO tests 1967. To KSC 12-30-1967.* 

S-IU-503: MSFC 1966-1967. To KSC 1-4-1968. [Now in solar orbit].  

*S-4B-503 destroyed in SACTO test stand 1-20-1967.  


SA-504: Apollo 9.  

Manned earth orbit with CSM-104/LM-3. VAB rollout to LC39A 1-3-69. Liftoff 3-3-1969. 

S-1C-4: BMAF 1966-67. MTF tests 5/67. To MAF 6/67. To KSC 9-30-1968. 

S-2-4: NAA 1966-67. MTF tests 2/68. To KSC 5-15-1968. 

S-4B-504: MDAC 1966-67. SACTO tests 1967. To KSC 9-12-1968. [Now in solar orbit]. 

S-IU-504: MSFC 1966-67. To KSC 9-30-1968. 


SA-505: Apollo 10.  

Manned lunar orbit with CSM-106/LM-4. VAB rollout 3-11-69 to LC39B. Liftoff 5-18-1969. 

S-1C-5: BMAF 1966-67. MTF tests 7/67. To MAF 7/67. To KSC 11-27-1968. 

S-2-5: NAA 1966-68. MTF tests 8/68. To KSC 12-10-1968. 

S-4B-505: MDAC 1966-67. SACTO tests 1967. To KSC 12-3-1968. [Now in solar orbit]. 

S-IU-505: MSFC 1966-67. To KSC 12-15-1968. 


SA-506: Apollo 11.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-107/LM-5. VAB rollout 5-20-69 to LC39A. Liftoff 7-16-1969. 

S-1C-6: BMAF 1966-68. MTF tests 9/68. To KSC 2-20-1969. 

S-2-6: NAA 1966-68. MTF tests 10/68. To KSC 2-6-1969. 

S-4B-506: MDAC 1966-67. SACTO tests 1967. To KSC 1-18-1969. [Now in solar orbit]. 

S-IU-506: MSFC 1966-67. To KSC 2-27-1969. 


SA-507: Apollo 12.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-108/LM-6. VAB rollout 9-8-69 to LC39A. Liftoff 11-14-1969. 

S-1C-7: BMAF 1966-68. MTF tests 10/68. To KSC 5-3-1969. 

S-2-7: NAA 1966-68. MTF tests 1/69. To KSC 4-21-1969. 

S-4B-507: MDAC 1966-67. SACTO tests 1967. To KSC 3-9-1969. [Now in solar orbit]. 

S-IU-507: MSFC 1966-67. To KSC 5-8-1969. 


SA-508: Apollo 13.  

Manned lunar landing attempt with CSM-109/LM-7. VAB rollout 12-15-70 to LC39A. Liftoff 4-11-1970. SM LOX tank explosion caused mission abort. S-4B impacted moon. LM-7 reentered earth. 

S-1C-8: BMAF 1966-68. MTF tests 12/68. To KSC 6-16-1969. 

S-2-8: NAA 1967-69. MTF tests 3/69. To KSC 6-29-1969. 

S-4B-508: MDAC 1966-68. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 6-13-1969. [Impacted moon]. 

S-IU-508: MSFC 1966-68. To KSC 7-7-1969. 


SA-509: Apollo 14.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-110/LM-8. VAB rollout 11-9-70 to LC39A. Liftoff 1-31-1971.  

S-1C-9: BMAF 1966-68. MTF tests 2/69. Stored MAF. To KSC 1-12-1970. 

S-2-9: NAA 1967-69. MTF tests 6/69. To KSC 1-21-1970. 

S-4B-509: MDAC 1966-68. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 1-21-1970. [Impacted moon]. 

S-IU-509: MSFC 1966-68. To KSC 5-6-1970. 


SA-510: Apollo 15.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-112/LM-10. VAB rollout 5-11-71 to LC39A. Liftoff 7-26-1971.  

S-1C-10: BMAF 1967-69. MTF tests 4/69. Stored MAF. To KSC 7-6-1970. 

S-2-10: NAA 1967-69. MTF tests 6/69. To KSC 5-18-1970. 

S-4B-510: MDAC 1966-68. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 6-12-1970. [Impacted moon]. 

S-IU-510: MSFC 1967-69. To KSC 6-25-1970. 


SA-511: Apollo 16.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-113/LM-11. VAB rollout 12-13-71 to LC39A. Liftoff 4-16-1972.  

S-1C-11: BMAF 1967-69. MTF tests 6/69. Stored MAF. To KSC 9-17-1971. 

S-2-11: NAA 1967-69. MTF tests 6/69. To KSC 9-30-1970. 

S-4B-511: MDAC 1966-68. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 7-1-1970. [Impacted moon]. 

S-IU-511: MSFC 1967-69. To KSC 9-29-1970. 


SA-512: Apollo 17.  

Manned lunar landing with CSM-114/LM-12. VAB rollout 8-28-72 to LC39A. Liftoff 12-6-1972.  

S-1C-12: BMAF 1967-69. MTF tests 10/69. Stored MAF. To KSC 5-11-1972. 

S-2-12: NAA 1967-69. To MTF 12/69. MTF tests 3/70. To KSC 10-27-1970. 

S-4B-512: MDAC 1966-68. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 7-1-1970. [Impacted moon]. 

S-IU-512: MSFC 1966-68. To KSC 9-29-1970. 


SA-513: Skylab 1  

Two-stage Saturn 5 orbited converted S-4B-212 Skylab. VAB rollout 4-16-1973 to LC39A. Liftoff 5-14-1973. Last Saturn 5 to fly. 

S-1C-13: BMAF 1967-69. MTF tests 12/69?. Stored MAF. To KSC 7-26-1972. 

S-2-13: NAA 1968-70. To MTF 3/70?. MTF tests mid-70. To KSC 1-6-1971. [Orbit decayed 1975]. 

S-4B-212: MDAC 1966-67. Hardware completed in 1967 and stored. S-4B-212/S-IU-212 subsequently pulled and refurbished as Skylab station in 1971-72. To KSC 1972. [Orbit decayed 1980s]. 

S-IU-513: MSFC 1967-69. To KSC 10-26-1972. 

NOTE: S-4B-513 (1968) reassigned to SA-514 vehicle for Apollo 18, never flown. [Displayed at JSC-Houston since 9/1977]. 



 Saturn 5 Hardware Not Flown 



Not Assigned. Originally Apollo 18, planned for 1974, but cancelled. 

S-1C-14: BMAF 1968-70. To MTF 6/70. To MTF storage 8-12-70. To MAF Storage later. [Displayed at JSC-Houston since 9/1977]. 

S-2-14: NAA 1968-70. MTF tests 8/70. To KSC 10-6-1970. [Now displayed at Saturn 5 Visitors Center, KSC, FL.  Displayed outside VAB from 4/1976 to 1998]. 

S-4B-514: MDAC 1966-1968. SACTO tests 1968. To KSC 3-28-1973. [Now displayed at Saturn 5 Visitors Center, KSC, FL.  Displayed outside VAB from 4/1976 to 1998 ]. 

S-IU-514: MSFC 1968-70. Stored MSFC. 



Not Assigned. Originally Apollo 19, planned for 1974, but cancelled. Assigned as backup Skylab launch vehicle, never flown. 

S-1C-15: BMAF 1968-70. Completed 8/70. To MTF 9/70. Final MTF tests 10/70. To MAF storage 10/70. [Now displayed at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, entrance gate]. 

S-2-15: NAA 1968-70. MTF final test 11-4-70 (final Saturn 5 static test). To KSC 12-20-1970. [Displayed at JSC-Houston since 9/1977]. 

S-4B-515: MDAC 1966-1968. SACTO tests 1968. Refurbished as backup Skylab after Apollo 19 mission cancelled. To KSC 5-25-1972. [Now displayed at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC]. 

S-IU-515: MSFC 1968-70. Stored MSFC. 


Saturn 5 Hardware Not Assembled 


SA-516: Cancelled by NASA in August 1968 just before initial procurement would have begun. 

SA-517: Cancelled by NASA in August 1968 just before initial procurement would have begun. 


Updated October 6, 2018