Amit Paranjape’s Blog

10 Fascinating Factoids About The Apollo Program’s Saturn V Rocket

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on July 16, 2009
The Saturn V rocket was the launch vehicle for Apollo 11. This amazing machine fascinates me no end, whenever I think of the sheer audacity of its design and capabilities. Till date, it’s the most powerful machine that man has ever built and operationalized. On this the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 (July 16, 1969), this brief blog article presents 10 interesting factoids about this rocket. I will be writing a more comprehensive blog about the entire Apollo 11 mission, on July 20th – to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing.
The massive Saturn V lifts off from Cape Caneveral

The massive Saturn V lifts off from Cape Caneveral

1. The Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever brought to operational status from a height, weight and payload standpoint. (In the 1980s, the Soviets designed and developed a rocket that was slightly more powerful, but it was never fully operationalized)

2. The Saturn V rocket stood 363 ft (over 35 stories tall) 33 ft in diameter, and weighed around 3,000 Tons.

The height was about 2 times that of the space shuttle.

3. The power generated by the 5 F1 engines of its first stage was in excess of 150 GW (1 GW  = 1,000 MW). That’s roughly equivalent to the entire installed power generation capacity in India! Or nearly 2.5 times of the power generation capacity in Texas.

4. The fuel consumption of the first stage was a staggering 15 Tons / sec of Kerosene. The fuel pumps that fed the engines alone consumed 100s of MW of power, enough to light an entire city.

5. The total lift capacity for putting a payload in a ‘low earth orbit’ (LEO) was about 120 Tons. And the capacity for putting a payload in a lunar orbit was around 47 Tons. For comparison imagine putting an entire fully loaded Boeing 757 into a low earth orbit, or a Boeing 737 into a lunar orbit!

6. The thrust generated by each of the first stage’s F1 engine was around 7.6 Million lb ft.  Again compare that with a supersonic fighter jet, F16: 23,000 lb ft and an engine of the Boeing 747: 60,000 lb ft.

7. The noise levels and vibrations/shockwaves generated during lift-off (or ‘blast-off’ as it is often and more appropriately referred to…) were so high that spectators were kept at least 3 miles away.

8. The 1st stage of the Saturn V rocket consumed kerosene and liquid oxygen. The 2nd and 3rd stages consumed liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Unlike the space shuttle, or any of the rockets in the Indian Space Program, there were no solid fuel boosters. A majority of the 3000 tons liftoff weight of the Saturn V comprised of the propellant and liquid oxygen.

9. The 1st stage could power the rocket to a height of around 42 miles and speeds of around 2.5km/sec. The 2nd stage took it to over 100 miles in height and achieved near orbital velocity. The 3rd stage was used in 2 steps: first to insert the Apollo spacecraft into an earth orbit. And then it was fired again to get it to the ‘escape velocity’ of around 11.2 km/sec, and onwards towards the moon.

10. The costing of the Saturn V program is also quite staggering. It was one of the biggest chunks of the overall Apollo Program. Across the 1960s and early 1970s, the Saturn V program cost around US $ 6.5 B – this figure adjusted for today’s prices comes at around US $ 35- 40 B !

Sources of information

Note – I am recounting the high level factoids from memory – based on readings, and visits to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I have also referenced the NASA website (which has a treasure trove of information) and Wikipedia (which presents information from the NASA websites, in a more organized fashion) for the specific details.


13 Responses

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  1. Sam said, on July 17, 2009 at 9:30 am


    Any data on what india’s (planned) moon mission “facts” are ?

  2. Girish Agashe said, on July 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    BBC has some interesting photos:

  3. […] Readers, please note: If you are interested in getting a quick preview of some of these fascinating numbers and factoids, take a look at my post from July 16 (40th anniversary of the launch): 10 Fascinating Factoids About The Apollo Program’s Saturn V Rocket […]

  4. Ted said, on July 21, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Thanks for that great summary. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet the first four moon-walkers. Brave guys. While her husband was on his way to the moon to orbit, not land, Jim Lovell’s wife recounted that she was encouraged by the program director after he told her that he believed they had a 50% of returning home safely. She said her husband had told her 30%.

  5. Dhananjay Joag said, on July 21, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Excellent information !
    I was fortunate to witness this moment on radio – voice of America – that time and I am able to relive the experience !
    certainly I get thrilled when I remember this memorable event of my life.


    Dhananjay Joag

  6. Robert Vulic said, on August 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Love hearing anything about the Apllo Program and 2nd about
    the space program.
    I often wondered how far the space program would have gone had Apllo continued with the 3 other Saturn 5s being launched.In one way I wished the Russians would have also put men on the Moon whether 1st or 2nd to the U.S. only to have the Space Race continue.We would of had Bases on the Moon and many manned landings on Mars.
    Like you I am a great admirer of the Saturn 5.But also the concept of Saturn 8 with 8 J 1 engines for first stage that was so powerful it could go to the Moon direct flight.

  7. Amit Paranjape said, on August 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm


    Thanks for your comments.
    Haven’t read too much about the Saturn 8 / J1 engines. Quite interesting.


  8. cuyler said, on October 23, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Hey… you don’t mention anything about the whole thing being faked! 8^)

    I have not been to the Johnson Space Center, but it was awesome to stand beneath one of the unused Saturn V rockets at Cape Canaveral.

  9. brian said, on March 21, 2010 at 3:51 am

    How did they get all of that fuel (liquid Oxygen, Liq Hydrogen, etc into the Cape…by rail, or truck, or barge??

    I’m looking for some factual history about this, and particularly some reasoning that I believe it was not brough in by liquid oxygen rail cars??

  10. Phil said, on June 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Great write-up. Except the info on the F1 engine is incorrect. All 5 F1 engines had 7/6 miillion lbs of thrust. One F1 had 1.5 million lbs.

  11. Vivek Tuljapurkar said, on July 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Great article Amit.

    Imagine sitting on top of this rocket, getting blasted off into space. It takes nerves made out of something far stronger than steel. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are two of my great heroes.

    I highly recommend the movie “The Right Stuff” to those who have not seen it.

    @Cuyler, as an aerospace engineer who has worked on similar things in his career, I can assure you that the technical capability required to build such things did exist way back in the 1960’s. There is no reason to fake it. Most such questions were raised by the tabloids to increase their sales.

  12. ashishjoglekar said, on July 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Reblogged this on ashishjoglekar.

  13. Amit Paranjape said, on July 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Vivek, Thanks for the comment.

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