The All-Powerful Rocketdyne F-1 engines powering the Saturn V

Was the tumultuous year in a tumultuous decade. I have always believed that the 50s really ended November 22, 1963. Of course, not by the numbers, but culturally. We lost our innocence of the 1950s that day.  We then had the Berkeley “Free Speech” riots as a warm up, some spectacular serial murders, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Chicago riots during the DNC just to name a few things. With the Tet offensive the North Vietnamese broke the truce and threw everything they had at the US and ARVN forces. Despite decimating them, Walter Cronkite declared the Vietnam War “unwinnable”. I read some time ago that after Tet, the Viet Cong were never again an effective fighting force. I would begin to form a contrary opinion about the mainstream media.

With all that, there was something exciting going on. The country had been following our race to get to the moon. I can remember in 1957 the fear that the Soviet Sputnik created. It was a shock, with the implications of an ICBM clear. Those of us baby boomers remember the drill in school to get under our desks when the civil defense siren was on.

Even as a seven year old, I was wondering just how effective this was.

But there was something exciting going on during that decade. After some demoralizing starts after Sputnik, the race was on.

California played a huge part in the space race. I can remember on a hot still summer evening hearing the lunar rockets being tested at Aerojet-General, which was a good 30-40 miles from our house. And those were small rockets. These rockets would later help avert a near disaster when for Apollo 11, the automated landing location programmed for the lunar lander was a crater (1:50) , and Armstrong had to take manual control to find a suitable spot, with the fuel depleting precariously. He was fully committed to landing, or being stuck on the moon forever.

The most impressive rocket that was developed, and remains the king to this day, was the F-1 for the Saturn V’s main booster. It was the most powerful rocket by far. In fact engineers are restudying the F-1 to learn its secrets in building the new rockets.

I scanned some old slides from a 1985 trip to FL , and they had a Saturn V on its side for display. Pictures don’t really do it justice.


Pictures do not really do the immensity of this rocket justice

To give you an idea just how powerful it was, the rocket that the Russians were developing for the moon  required 30 NK-15 rocket motors; the Saturn only 5.

After a disaster in 1967 requiring the redesign of the Apollo capsule, the next year in 1968 after just 16 weeks of planning, Apollo 8 circled the moon.

I can remember watching the evening news, and hearing the astronauts recite a portion of Genesis as they were circling the moon. What a magical moment that was.

A year later, in July one evening I would have a huge fight with my father, as sons and fathers sometimes have. I would storm out of the house that night, driving down the highway with no destination in mind, until I saw CA-198 towards the dawn. I headed to Sequoia National Park and parked my Camaro  at the employment office. When they opened the office, I had a job in the back country and after a flight in a Bell 47, met a crew clearing fallen trees off the trails.  We camped all summer at different locations, and if you wanted to bathe you had to find a snow-fed stream. Upon beginning my flight, a ranger told me that if I was bitten by a rattlesnake, “don’t run and panic” as the flight would eventually come. There were some interesting stories from that summer, perhaps for another time. One night, however while camped in a redwood grove, I would peer up through those massive trees and see the moon and hear Neil Armstrong’s voice.

What an amazing time it was to be alive.


(Pictures are bluish because of the Kodak Echtachrome, which just got bluer over the decades).

H/T to ORPO1 for bringing up the Time article on the Facebook page…

Update: 12-15-18:  More on the Saturn V which gives an idea to scale



Filed under History

2 responses to “1968

  1. Pingback: 30 Seconds | The Lexicans

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