A Picture I Forgot

This is one picture from the Saturn-V that I forgot to post. It’s worth it in its own right, in my opinion.

When we walked away from the main stage with its 5 gigantic F-1 engines, we got to the second stage, and stood silently for a while. I don’t know what Bill and Anna were thinking but I was almost moved to tears. Look at the wire-routing on that thing! The connectors! The tie-downs!

Imagine that you’re assembling your home sound system. You’ve got the amplifier, head/preamp, playstation audio input, speakers, subwoofer, a bunch of wires tying it all together and they need to be distant yet close. If you’re like me, you spend a while thinking about where the wires will go and loosely routing them, then you power it up, test it, and tie it all down. That sound about right?

Then it has to survive 9 gravity thrust and some rather significant bumps like breaking the sound barrier and a few things like that. I don’t think that vacuum is a huge problem for electronics but you’d better hope there’s no housing around some widget that will try to retain pressure and explode.

Every single little thing that you see in this picture was a tremendous amount of worry and concern and attention to detail by the person who made it. And this stuff was all built at high speed – desperation speed. And after Apollo-1’s fire and the loss of 3 crew, everyone knew wiring was really important.

My buddy Ron D participated in the DARPA grand challenge to build a self-navigating autonomous vehicle. Their entry was kicking ass and running way ahead of the competition until it hit a bump and one of the power cables “blipped” a bit and the network hub power-cycled – all the devices attached tried to re-ARP their IP addresses and it made them stall for a fraction of a second in which the vehicle (a modified Honda ATV) slammed into a tree, The connectors were pretty tight but they were designed for a data center not to be rocketing across rough ground at 50mph. That’s a cautionary tale that gets multiplied 100,000-fold when you’re talking about a Saturn-V and this was all done by hand.

It’s a work of art, better than a prayer.


  1. DonDueed says

    The S-II stage was another amazing piece of engineering. Those J-2 engines used liquid hydrogen as fuel, an innovation in itself. But to save weight, they didn’t have separate tanks for the LOX and LH2; it was one tank with a internal barrier between fuel and oxidizer. The problem there was that the two liquids differed in temperature by hundreds of degrees.

    No rocket (or rocket stage) had ever been designed like that before. Yet, the first flight test of that stage was in an all-up configuration — they tested the entire Saturn V in one go. There just wasn’t time to test each stage independently and still make the end-of-decade deadline.

  2. says

    Yet, the first flight test of that stage was in an all-up configuration — they tested the entire Saturn V in one go.

    I was just wondering “how did they test that?” because it seems like that would be extremely difficult.

    My level of respect for the people who used to sit on those things has jumped up a couple of notches. And it was already pretty high.

  3. xohjoh2n says

    I guess the usual approach of “just re-trigger the test, maybe the failure won’t happen next time” doesn’t cut it in that environment…

  4. says

    @xohjo2n, I see you are experienced in the ways of modern (not only) automotive industry.

    Luckily these projects were done at a time where real world results were more important than potential on-paper-only savings.

  5. says

    One of our local TV stations is showing hours and hours of moon story programming at the moment, fills on the time while it drizzles outside. Some stuff I remember vividly from the age of eight, some I’d never seen before, and of course every show uses some of the exact same archive footage. Nice to keep an eye on while I surf the net.

  6. avalus says

    I’ll just answer to both posts.
    I always love the (well, not so little) little details that were done to make the whole thing lighter (like these cutouts on the upper right part.) and sturdy the whole thing. Those cables and the plumbing are a thing of beauty.

    Then there is this footage of the F1 in action. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKtVpvzUF1Y) Look at these forces at work, the fiercenness of combustion. Wow.

    I’d rather have more of these than F35, thats some crazy shit. Yes, let’s not forget Von Braun pretty sure was a nazi (I found his face-heel-turn unsatisfying). And that his later business was the building of ICBMs, arguably not much an improvement over the A4 from a (well, my) moral perspective.

    Anyway, I am very envious! This is definitly a place I want to visit.
    (As of you giving a talk, I recently found a video of a talk you gave, on youtube. You have a really soothing voice, I think)

  7. voyager says

    It is beautiful and I think its use and history make it exquisite.

    Thanks lurker753 @ 7, Avalus @ 9 and rq @10 for the links.

  8. eternalstudent says

    I work for a company that builds communication satellites. Whenever I have an opportunity to visit the cleanroom I always take a moment at one in progress to admire the sheer artistry of waveguides, electrical harnesses, propellant plumbing, and structure. Unbelievably complex yet fitting together perfectly and *nothing* that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. Certainly a source of pride for those who get to work on it!

Leave a Reply