Saturn V – When tests fail

Saturn V escape tower testSometimes you stumble upon some great stories from the space race. One of my favourites came from the testing of the various systems that became the Saturn V stack. From testing the enormous, first stage, F1 engines to the launch escape system at the other end of the vehicle.

This is one of the tests that, actually, failed the test but fully succeed in what it was designed for. To pull the command module and the astronauts away from the exploding spacecraft. So why did it fail the test you ask. The simple answer was, it worked automatically not by the test criteria! Stupid, I know but that’s what the test conditions said. The rocket that was used to bost the boilerplate command module into the sky managed to get into an uncontrolled roll due to a mistake in manufacture. That spin produced enough angular momentum to tear the rocket apart and destroy it. A problem that the escape system was designed to overcome.

Back to a little bit of history behind how the escape system was designed to work. There were three electrical cables at 120 degrees apart running the full length of the Saturn V stack. Each had power going through them and a monitor at one end. The system was activated when two of the three cables lost power. A simple way of deciding that the vehicle was disintegrating under the human cargo. When that happened, a second later the escape engines would light, explosive bolts would also separate the CM from the stack and the rockets would pull the CM free and to a safe distance before the parachutes would deploy and float the CM back to earth to a, hopefully, soft landing.

The whole test is available on youtube, or below to make it easier for you to see. The test starts at around the 1:20 mark.

There are other great stories that you can discover.  Like the organization chart of heaven that someone designed due to the stress of the work or the astronauts putting a real sailboat into a swimming pool for a party!