America took its first step toward the moon in the spring of 1957, four years before President Kennedy declared the lunar expedition a national mission. While still preparing for the launch of its first Jupiter (31 May 1957), the Army rocket team at Huntsville, Alabama, began studies of a booster ten times more powerful than the 667,200-newton (150,000-pound thrust) Jupiter. The tenfold increase in thrust could put a weather and communications satellite into orbit around the earth, or propel a space probe out of earth's orbit.
The change of emphasis from intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (Jupiter, Thor, Atlas) to a super-rocket capable of space exploration signified a change of attitudes at the Department of Defense. The change was also grounded in interservice politics: the previous November, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson had assigned responsibility for all intermediate and long-range missiles to the Air Force. If the Army was to stay in the big-rocket business, it would have to find new tasks for its Wernher von Braun team of rocket experts at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.*
Maj. Gen. John B. Medaris, commander of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), set his sights on the new super-rocket, subsequently to be named Saturn.1 **
Medaris's effort to gain Defense Department support for the big rocket was bolstered by the Soviet Union's accomplishments in the fall of 1957. The contrast between the 500-kilogram Sputnik 2 and America's 8-kilogram Explorer 1 was persuasive. In December von Braun's group (officially known as the Development Operations Division of the ABMA) set out arguments for the new booster program. The super-rocket would develop 6,672,000 newtons (1,500,000 pounds of thrust) and serve as a steppingstone to an even larger rocket capable of manned lunar missions. Its early development and adaptation in a multistage vehicle could accomplish a number of space objectives pointing toward a landing on the moon in 1967.2
Although the ABMA proposal was reinforced by the public's embarrassment over Sputnik, approval for the Huntsville project was delayed for several months. Medaris's program faced two obstacles: the Eisenhower administration's fiscal conservatism and the priority given to intercontinental missiles. While Medaris pressed his campaign, the von Braun team was far from idle. Between April 1957 and August 1958, ABMA logged 50,000 manhours on the project. Finally, in July 1958, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, established earlier that year to coordinate Defense Department space activities, announced its intention to develop a super-rocket. The following month ABMA was directed to start on the Saturn.3
In September 1958, General Medaris and Roy Johnson, the Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, established a flight-test schedule of four Saturn launches. The first was set for September 1960. The third, eight months later, would employ an upper stage to place limited payloads in orbit. The written agreement between the two men was still shadowed by the Eisenhower administration's reluctance to spend money on non-military space ventures. Johnson promised to provide $72.3 million over a three-year period. (The Saturn I program would eventually cost more than a billion dollars.) The size of the commitment meant that, at least in the beginning, Saturn would operate on a shoestring.4
The original Saturn design reflected a concern to save time and money, and to employ components that could be moved by air transport. The booster made extensive use of available Army hardware. It used eight engines and a cylindrical center tank copied after the Jupiter, a single-stage rocket with a range of 2,700 kilometers. For its eight clustered tanks, the von Braun team went back to their favorite Redstone rocket. The propellants would be RP-1 (kerosene) and liquid oxygen.
Early plans included a stipulation that no component could exceed 11,340 kilograms or a cross-sectional dimension of 3 meters, the maximum limits of aircraft transport at the time. To meet these limitations, the booster was initially designed with the center and eight outer tanks separate from the frame and engine assembly. The fuel tanks were to be mated with the frame on the launch pad. The idea was discarded in early 1959 for two reasons. Huntsville engineers agreed that flying out a disassembled thrust unit and rebuilding it on the pad would reduce reliability; and transportation studies indicated that air freight by 11 C-124s would cost more than construction of a cradle to carry the Saturn down the Tennessee River by barge.5
** Originally termed the Juno V, the super-rocket was renamed Saturn in Huntsville work papers of mid-1958, and the new name received official status in early 1959. From the beginning it had a dual connotation: (1) a clustered booster, and (2) a multistage rocket in which the clustered booster would serve as the first stage.
2. R. Cargill Hall, Project Ranger: A Chronology (Pasadena: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 1971), pp. 48-52; ABMA, Juno V Development, pp.1-2.
3. ABMA, Juno V Development, pp. 1-2; Lange, "Saturn Space Vehicle," p. 6; Medaris, Countdown, pp. 151-241, passim.
4. Memo of agreement, Advanced Research Projects Agency and Army Ordnance Missile Command, "High Thrust Booster Program Using Clustered Engines," 23 Sept. 1958, printed in ABMA, Juno V Development, Appendix A; NASA, Historical Pocket Statistics, July 1972 (Washington, 1972), p. E-4. The tenfold increase in the cost of the Saturn I program can be explained in large part by the changing purposes of the program. Initially the Defense Department viewed it as a four-vehicle test series relying extensively on available engines, fuel tanks, and tooling machinery. The program evolved into something quite different, requiring much unanticipated construction for launch vehicles and facilities. Warren G. Hunter, ARPA, Coordinator, SSEL, to Hans Hueter, Dir., SSEL, "Juno V (Saturn) Program," 3 Oct. 1958. Unless specified otherwise, manuscript sources are in KSC Archives.
5. ABMA, Juno V Development, pp. 7-11, 19-20, 25-27, 47-51; ABMA, Juno V Transportation Feasibility Study, by J. S. Hamilton, J. L. Fuller, and P. F. Keyes, report DLMTTM-58-58 (Redstone Arsenal, AL, 5 Jan. 1959), pp. 1-4; ABMA, Juno V Space Vehicle Development Program (Status Report-15 Nov. 1958), by H. H. Koelle, et al., report DSP-TM-11-58 (Redstone Arsenal, AL, 15 Nov. 1958), pp. 2-3, 19-20.