Editor’s note: This article about Cape Canaveral, The Kennedy Space Center, and the space program is part of WRAL TechWire’s weeklong contribution to the Triangle’s “Lift Off NC: Apollo + Beyond” celebration which features events throughout 2019.

CAPE CANAVERAL – The size of a Saturn V rocket, the vehicle that launched the Apollo astronauts on their voyages to the moon, is difficult to imagine.  At 373 feet, the 3-stage rocket is 60 feet longer than the Statue of Liberty. Visitors can get up close and personal with one at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.


Stages of the Saturn V hang in a long hall amid banners representing the patches for each Apollo mission.

A bus ride out to the Apollo/Saturn V building at the Space Center gives a close-up view of the rocket and its various parts. Here a Saturn V, one of only three remaining in the world, is suspended horizontally overhead, separated into its stages.

The other Saturn V’s can be seen at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, and at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, TX.  Recently Amazon founder and Blue Origin space pioneer Jeff Bezos has been fishing discarded engines of Apollo’s Saturn V rockets out of the Atlantic to put in museums.

The first stage’s five engines took the astronauts to an altitude of about 36 nautical miles.

Designed by Wernher von Braun and his team at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and built primarily by Boeing, the first stage was powered by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines that delivered  over 7,600,000 pounds-force of thrust.

The huge size of the F-1 engines dwarfs TechWire writer Allan Maurer.


The second stage, built by North American Aviation, also had five engines, which accelerated the Saturn V through the upper atmosphere.

The first and second stages of the Saturn V were so massive, at 138 feet and 81.6 feet tall respectively with diameters of 33 feet, they had to be shipped to Cape Canaveral aboard barges. Only the third stage, built by Douglas Aircraft  and a modest 58.6 feet tall, could be delivered by air, arriving at the Cape aboard an Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy, a modified Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

On arrival in Florida, the Saturn V stages were stacked together in the Cape’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) which stands 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide, the largest single story building in the world. Kennedy’s bus tours pass it on the way out to the Apollo/Saturn V building, along with the new mission control center being build for future space flight.

The Command/Service module served as the mothership for the Apollo astronauts on the way to – and from –  the moon.

The Command/Service module, built for NASA by North American Aviation, was mounted atop the third stage. The combo included the conical Command Module, a cabin housing the crew and equipment needed for reentry, and the cylindrical Service Module, providing propulsion, electrical power and storage for the more than week-long lunar voyage, as well as holding the Lunar Excursion Module, better known as the LEM.

The LEM hangs in the Saturn V building at Kennedy.

The Lunar Excursion Module, built for NASA by Grumman Aircraft,  could operate only in outer space. Six LEMs successfully landed humans on the Moon between 1969 and 1972.

Mercury Mission Control before the first manned flight by a US astronaut.

Other exhibits in the Apollo/Saturn V building at the Cape include Mercury Mission Control as it looked just before Alan Shepard launched aboard Friendship 7.

The chairs in the control room have work coats draped on their backs printed with the names of the many companies that contributed to the space flight program – Boeing, Grumman, IBM, etc. I looked in vain for MIT, but I know my dad – an engineer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories –  was there.

The Apollo I astronauts just before fire broke out.

The Saturn V building also contains a moving tribute to  the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, the Apollo I astronauts lost in a tragic fire that swept through their capsule during a test on Jan. 27, 1967.  Titled Ad Astra Per Aspera – A Rough Road Leads to the Stars, the Apollo I Tribute includes many mementos of the astronauts’ lives and a glimpse into their personal dedication to the exploration of space.

WRAL TechWire writer Allan Maurer contributed to this story. 

Previously on WRAL TechWire:

Prospect of return to manned flight revitalizes the Space Coast of Florida

NASA vs Disney: Space experience face-off