Sunday, February 21, 2016

50 Years Ago: Preparing for AS-201

Apollo AS-201 on the pad at Cape Kennedy.

Fifty years ago, in 1966, NASA was ready to begin an intensive testing program of the Saturn rocket with the Apollo spacecraft components. The first unmanned launch would be mission AS-201 scheduled for February 26. The launch vehicle was the Saturn 1, designed for getting Apollo into Earth orbit and testing command, service, and lunar module components before sending them to the Moon. There had been ten Saturn 1 test launches since 1961, using boiler-plate mock-up equipment in place of actual command and service module elements. In the latter half of 1965, the Saturn 1 rocket segments were brought to Cape Kennedy and stacked on the pad at Launch Complex 34.
Components of the Saturn 1 first stage.

Chrysler was the manufacturer of the first stage. Yes, the same company that manufactures cars. On this model, the stage featured eight J-2 engines that could produce thrust of 1,600,000 pounds of force. It arrived at the Cape in August 1965. It was set up directly on the pad.
Components of the Saturn 1 second stage.

 The second stage of the rocket is actually the Saturn IVb stage, built by Douglas Aircraft Company (now part of Boeing). It also worked as the third stage of the Saturn V rocket. It used one J-2 engine for propulsion. It was mated to the rocket, on the pad, in October 1965.

Command and Service modules being mated.
The Block 1 Command and Service modules joined the rocket in December 1965. They were built by North American Aviation. The Block 1 design was intended for all Earth-orbit testing and manned missions, before the Lunar Orbit rendezvous scheme was adopted by NASA, and the capsule did not include a docking hatch in its nose. Once the plan for landing in the LEM was included, the Block II was developed, and manned mission planning with Block I was shortened to only two missions. 
Finishing the Stack.
Testing of the rocket continued both night and day. In late 1965, the automation testing computer developed malfunctions which slowed down the rate of testing, but it was of course repaired and plans continued for the February 26 launch.

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