Saturday, April 18, 2015

Retro Saturday: The Saturn Propulsion System

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Jeff Quitney YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a 14-minute NASA documentary titled, The Saturn Propulsion System, which tells you what it's about.

The narrator somewhat disingenuously claims that Saturn from its beginning was intended for civilian use, but that's not quite true.

Saturn began in the late 1950s when Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team were still working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. The Defense Department was looking to develop a heavy-lift vehicle for launching spy and communications satellites into space. The idea behind Saturn was to cluster the fuel tanks and engines from the existing Redstone and Jupiter rockets developed by von Braun's team for ABMA into a “Super-Jupiter.” By early 1959, it became known officially as Saturn.

The political shock in the aftermath of the Sputnik I launch on October 4, 1957 eventually led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA, officially born on October 1, 1958, began looking at various ideas for a heavy-lift vehicle, including von Braun's Saturn.

In 1959, the Defense Department chose to pursue the U.S. Air Force Titan C. Rather than cancel Saturn, von Braun and ABMA were transferred to NASA on March 15, 1960. NASA no longer had to rely solely on the military for its launch vehicles.

At the time of this film, NASA was launching the Saturn I, still called C-1 by some because that had been its designation when the Saturn Vehicle Evaluation Committee in 1959 looked at various scenarios for ABMA developing a booster for NASA. C-1 referred to Series C, Option 1. The historic Saturn V moon rocket evolved from the C-5 option.

President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 proposal to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s gave Saturn a destiny. Six years later, on November 9, 1967, the first Saturn V launched from Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.

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