Wednesday, May 28, 2014

50 Years Ago: Saturn 1 SA-6 Mission Success

Saturn 1 rocket mission SA-6 on pad LC-37B.

On May 28th, 1964, NASA launched the 6th test flight of a Saturn rocket from Cape Canaveral. In this case the rocket was the Saturn 1, boasting eight H-1 engines in the first stage. On this mission, the payload was not the Jupiter nose cone, but was the first "boilerplate" or test version, of the Apollo capsule.

Before the launch: Engineers prepare the "Boilerplate" capsule for the mission.

The mission for this flight was to allow over 113 sensors in the capsule to measure the stresses of flight on the spacecraft, monitoring pressures and acceleration. The capsule was not planned to separate from the stage, but would remain attached.

Dr. Werner Von Braun in front of pad LC-37B. Seeing his dream of rockets to the Moon being tested.

There had been two previous attempts to launch the rocket. The first attempt was scrubbed because of fuel contamination, the second attempt failed due to overheating the guidance system. On this third attempt, engineers discovered a flaw in the optical unit of the instrument panel, covered by liquid oxygen vapors. Engineers determined it would not impact the flight, and a go was given.

Aerial view of the Saturn stack ready for launch.

The rocket lifted off from launch complex pad 37B at seven minutes after Noon, Eastern time. The only problem in the flight occurred when one of the H-1 engines shut down early. The other motors continued to burn a bit longer to compensate. After first stage separation, the second stage ignited and ten seconds later the escape tower jettisoned.

Moment of truth: The first stage ignites.

The second stage with the Apollo test capsule entered orbit reaching up to 123 miles high. The craft managed to make 54 orbits, eventually coming down into the Pacific Ocean.

Artist's concept of the SA-6 mission. The second stage propels the rocket higher into space after dropping the expended first stage.

After examining the instrumentation records, engineers determined that a gearing piece in the H-1 engine was at fault. The gears were replaced for the next launch and no further H-1 engine failures occurred.

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