The Launch of Apollo 4

KSC began an abbreviated countdown (56 1/2 hours) on 6 November 1967 pointing toward a 9 November launch. The propellant loading was a feat in itself; the propellant systems pumped 89 trailer-truck loads of LOX, 28 trailer loads of liquid hydrogen, and 27 rail cars of kerosene aboard Apollo 4. The day before the launch, representatives from the groups supporting the mission met at KSC for an informal review. The meeting gave Apollo 4 a "go" for launch, contingent on the resolution of a few minor problems.32

To recognize individuals who had performed in an exemplary manner on the manned spaceflight program, KSC invited Apollo contractors to select employees to visit the launch center for the liftoff. On 8 November, 43 of these "Manned Flight Awareness" honorees were guests of the center for a tour of facilities, a social evening that included a visit with six astronauts, and a view of the launch the next morning.

On the morning of 9 November, cars clogged the access roads as visitors filled every available spot. The countdown continued to its climax, when the five engines ignited. The small but astonishingly strong hold-down arms held back the giant ship for a few seconds. Suddenly the 36-story vehicle seemed to stand for an instant above the launch umbilical tower, and then it moved skyward with increasing speed. The bleachers at the press site shook, their light fixtures bounced, a flock of ducks changed course without breaking their V formation. Men shouted in triumph.

If distinguished guests in the stands to the northwest of the assembly building, the press corps, and the thousands of other visitors felt a sense of triumph, it paled before the feelings of the experts at their consoles in the launch control center. KSC's last official act was Launch Operations Manager Paul Donnelly's statement: "The vehicle has cleared the tower." At that moment, responsibility left KSC's hands. The Manned Space Flight team at Houston might refer back to Kennedy on specific problems for unmanned flights like Apollo 4, but in flights with men on board, corrections would come from the astronauts.

Wernher von Braun spoke of the mission as "an expert launching all the way through, from lift-off exactly on time to performance of every single stage." General Phillips said:

I was tremendously impressed with the smooth teamwork that this combined government/multi-industry team put together. It was smooth, it was professional, it was confident. It was perfect in every respect. It was a powerful operation. You could almost feel the will with which it was being carried out. Apollo is on the way to the moon.33
During the course of the following week, George E. Mueller, NASA's Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, put the success of Apollo 4 in focus. Noting the space age was ten years old, he said that the voyage of Apollo 4 dramatically increased the confidence of people across the nation and showed the maturing of a management structure that could administer the largest single research and development program ever undertaken in the Western world. He discussed the crucial flights of the lunar module coming in the near future and predicted that it would be possible for astronauts to land on the moon about the middle of 1969.34

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