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Introduction to Space Exploration - Rockets Are Key

saturn atlas jupiter program

One key goal in the United States and the Soviet Union was development of a large and powerful rocket—a so-called super booster. NASA called its superbooster a Saturn rocket. The Soviets named their rocket the N-1.

Development of the Saturn rocket series began in 1961 under the direction of Wernher von Braun. He had actually been pitching the idea to the military for several years. Before the Apollo program NASA utilized relatively small rockets capable of lifting a few hundred to a few thousand pounds into Earth orbit.

The Scout rocket was used to launch small satellites and probes weighing up to 300 pounds. It was devised by combining aspects of rockets used by the armed forces (Polaris and Vanguard rockets of the Navy and the Sergeant rockets of the Army). The Thor, Atlas, and Titan series evolved from Air Force rockets first developed as ICBMs. During the mid-1960s the military replaced most of its Atlas rockets with Minuteman missiles. Modified Atlas rockets were used to launch satellites and for the Mercury program. The Titan II was used during the Gemini program.

The Saturn series evolved from von Braun's Jupiter rockets. Legend has it that the Saturn got its name because it was one step beyond the Jupiter rocket, just as Saturn is the next step beyond Jupiter in the solar system. The Saturn 5, with a height of 364 feet (111 meters) and a diameter of thirty-three feet (ten meters), is the largest rocket ever built. (See Figure 1.4.) It had to be to push the 100-ton Apollo spacecraft toward the Moon.

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