SPACE: Apollo 4 Space Mission

SPACE: Apollo 4: On the 9th November 1967 Apollo 4 also known as AS-501, was the first, uncrewed, flight in the Apollo program, and the first test of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the rocket that would be used to send astronauts to the Moon, and the first to be launched from Kennedy Space Center  in Florida, ascending from Launch Complex 39, where facilities had been built specially for the Saturn V.

The original launch date was planned for late 1966, but was delayed to the 9th November 1967, due to various problems with various elements of the spacecraft, and difficulties during pre-flight testing. Also contributing to the delays was the need for additional inspections following the Apollo 1 fire that killed the first Apollo crew in January 1967. These issues delayed the flight through much of 1967.

The mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean slightly less than nine hours after launch, having achieved its objectives. NASA deemed the mission a complete success, as it proved the Saturn V worked, which was an important step towards achieving the main objective: landing astronauts on the Moon and bringing them back safely, before the end of the 1960s.

The objectives of Apollo 4 was to qualify the launch vehicle, the Apollo spacecraft, and the ground systems, for the crewed lunar landing missions that would follow. In addition to being the first flight of the Saturn V and Apollo 4.

Objectives for the Apollo 4 mission were to gain flight data on the Saturn V and spacecraft structural integrity and mutual compatibility, including on flight loads and during the separations as each Saturn V stage was exhausted and was discarded. NASA also wanted data on subsystem operations, including the emergency detection subsystem, and sought to evaluate the Apollo CM’s heat shield under conditions simulating a return from a lunar mission.

Two motion-picture cameras were carried by Apollo 4, mounted on the Saturn V to capture separation of first stage and interstage from the launch vehicle. They would then be ejected, descend to the Atlantic Ocean in pods with parachutes and radio beacons, to aid in their recovery.

The command module contained an automatic 70 mm film camera which captured photographs of Earth, over a two-hour period.  Some 755 colour images were taken through the Command Pilot’s window, at altitudes ranging from 13,510 to 18,092 kilometers.

Apollo 4 was deemed an important and successful mission. It was the first flight of the first and second stages of the Saturn V, the first launch of the complete Saturn V, the first lift off from Complex 39, the first flight test of the Block II command module heatshield, the first flight of even a simulated lunar module. The fact that everything worked so well and with so little trouble gave NASA a confident feeling.

Apollo 4 climb to orbit, each of the Saturn V’s three stages burned for slightly longer than expected, but this left the craft in an orbit roughly one kilometer higher than expected, something well within tolerance. A burn 11 seconds longer than planned meant that the CM entered the Earth’s atmosphere slightly faster and at a shallower angle than planned, but still within tolerance. This discrepancy happened not because of the performance of the guidance system, but because the burn had been controlled from Earth. The CM’s environmental control system kept the ship’s cabin within acceptable temperatures and pressures throughout the mission, increasing by only 5.6 °C (10 °F) during atmospheric entry.

President Lyndon Johnson described the launch, “The whole world could see the awesome sight of the first launch of what is now the largest rocket ever flown. This launching symbolizes the power this nation is harnessing for the peaceful exploration of space.” 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”.

Mission duration8 hours, 36 minutes, 59 seconds
Orbits completed3

Einstein’s Theory of Gravity

One of the more exciting results of Einstein’s theory of gravity – the so-called general theory of relativity – is the possibility of gravity waves. The force of gravity is in some respects like the force of electricity between charged particles, or the attraction between magnets, but with mass playing the role of charge. When electric charges are violently disturbed, such as in a radio transmitter, electromagnetic waves are generated. The reason for this can readily be visualized. If an electric charge is pictured as surrounded by a field, then when the charge is moved the field must also adjust itself to the new position. However, it cannot do this instantaneously: the theory of relativity forbids information to travel faster than light, so the outlying regions of the field do not know that the charge has moved until at least the light-travel time from the charge. It follows that the field becomes buckled, or distorted, because when the charge first moves the remote regions of the field do not change whereas the field in the proximity of the charge is quick to respond. The effect is to send a kink of electric and magnetic force travelling outward through the field at the speed of light. This electromagnetic radiation transports energy away from the charge into the surrounding space. If the charge is wobbled to and fro in a systematic way, the field distortion wobbles likewise, and the spreading kink takes on the features of a wave. Electromagnetic waves of this sort are experienced by us as visible light, radio waves, heat radiation, x-rays and so on, according to their wavelength. 

In analogy to the production of electromagnetic waves we might expect the disturbance of massive bodies to set up kinks in the surrounding gravitational field, which will also spread outwards in the form of gravity waves. In this case, though, the ripples are kinks in space itself, because in Einstein’s theory gravity is a manifestation of distorted spacetime. Gravity waves can therefore be visualized as undulations of space, radiating away from the source of disturbance.

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