A crescent-Earth photo, by an automatic camera aboard the unpiloted Apollo 4 command module on November 9, 1967, at an altitude of 11,200 miles (18,000 km). Apollo 4, (also known as AS-501), was the first uncrewed test flight of NASA’s mighty Saturn V rocket, which was used by the U.S. Apollo program to send the first astronauts to the Moon.
Related: Saturn V Rocket (Documentary)
Apollo 4 was launched on November 9, 1967, from Launch Complex 39 at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, facilities built especially for the 363-foot-tall (110.6 meters) Saturn V launch vehicle, which still remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever built. It was the first-ever launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It was also the first Apollo flight after Apollo 1 tragedy: on January 27, 1967, a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal test and killed its crew, Roger B. Chaffee (b. February 15, 1935), Virgil I. Grissom (b. April 3, 1926) and Edward H. White II (b. November 14, 1930).
Eight seconds before liftoff, the five Rocketdyne F-1 engines ignited, sending tremendous amounts of noise across Kennedy Space Center. To protect from a possible explosion, the launch pads at LC-39 were located more than three miles (5 kilometers) from the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB); still, the sound pressure was much stronger than expected and buffeted the VAB, Launch Control Center, and press buildings.
Ceiling tiles fell around news reporter Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009), covering the launch for CBS News. Cronkite and producer Jeff Gralnick put their hands on the observation window in an effort to stop its powerful vibrations. Cronkite later admitted he was “overwhelmed” by the power of the rocket and the emotion of the moment. His on-air description was delivered without his usual poise and reserve as he yelled above the launch noise into his microphone.
… our building’s shaking here. Our building’s shaking! Oh, it’s terrific, the building’s shaking! This big blast window is shaking! We’re holding it with our hands! Look at that rocket go into the clouds at 3000 feet! … you can see it… you can see it… oh the roar is terrific!Walter Cronkite, Broadcast of Apollo 4 launch
After the successful liftoff, Kennedy’s director, Dr. Kurt Debus (November 29, 1908 – October 10, 1983) spoke of that achievement. He said:
“After long years of preparing, designing, building, and constructing a new type facility, it was put to the test for the first time and it was done extremely well”.
Under Dr. Kurt Debus, between 1952 and 1974 – the year he retired, NASA conducted 150 launches of military missiles and space vehicles, including 13 launches of the Saturn V rocket as part of the Apollo Moon landing program.
NASA’s Associate Administrator for Crewed Space Flight, Dr. George Mueller (July 16, 1918 – October 12, 2015) ha said:
“The maiden voyage of the Saturn V dramatically increased the confidence of people across the nation in the management of the largest research and development undertaking in which the western world has ever engaged”.
What Happened to Apollos 2 and 3? There is no official Apollo 2 or Apollo 3. You can read the article to learn what happened in Popular Science written by Amy Shira Teitel.
The mission lasted 8 hours, 36 minutes, 59 seconds, and completed three orbits around Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, achieving all mission goals. NASA deemed the mission a complete success because it proved the Saturn V worked. In total, 755 pictures were taken during the mission, and 712 had some or all of Earth in the frame. They are the first color film photos taken from that altitude, 11,200 miles (18,000 km).
Less than two years after Apollo 4, the crew of Apollo 11 achieved President Kennedy’s goal, landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Five more missions landed by the end of 1972.
- “The curious case of the Apollo 4 Earth images” on Planetary Society website
- “Apollo 4 was First-Ever Launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center” on NASA.gov
- “November 1967 – Apollo 4 Launched” on NASA.gov
- Apollo 4 on Wikipedia