ASK OCE — November 3, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 15
This Week in NASA History
Apollo 4 Lays Ground Work for Moon Landing
On the morning of November 9, 1967, the five massive engines in the first stage of the Saturn V ignited, lifting the unmanned Apollo 4 (AS-501)
skyward from the Kennedy Space Center. The mission was critical to testing the technologies and systems that would be employed less than two years later on the first manned Apollo mission to the moon.
The aim of the Apollo 4 mission — in addition to testing the structural integrity and compatibility of the spacecraft-launch vehicle combination — was to boost the command and service modules into an elliptical orbit and then "power-dive" the command module into the atmosphere somewhere above Hawaii, simulating a return to earth from the moon. For the task, Apollo 4 carried a detailed mockup of the lunar module.
Other mission objectives included testing heat shield and thermal system functionality, testing reentry procedures, gathering data on launch loads and dynamic characteristics, and ensuring proper stage separation of the Saturn V. Apollo 4 achieved all of its mission objectives nearly flawlessly.
The mission was the first all-up test of the three stage Saturn V rocket, which weighed more than 2.7 million kilograms when fully fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1. The Saturn V first stage generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
Apollo 4 also achieved several other notable firsts. It was the first flight of the first and second stages of the Saturn V, the first restart of the S-IVB in orbital flight, the first liftoff from the newly built launch Complex 39, the first flight test of the Block II command module heatshield, and the first flight of a simulated lunar module.
In Chariots of Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft
, a publication of the NASA History Office, authors Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson, Jr. concluded that the mission was a success “technically, managerially, and psychologically.” They summarized that after Apollo 4, “Plenty of wrinkles remained to be ironed out, but by the end of 1967 Apollo seemed to be rounding the corner toward its ultimate goal (of reaching the Moon).”