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On This Day in Space! Oct. 27, 1961: NASA launches 1st Saturn rocket test flight

On Oct. 27, 1961, NASA launched the first test flight of its new Saturn I space launch vehicle. 

The Saturn I was the United States' first heavy-lift rocket designed to launch big payloads beyond low Earth orbit. This was also the first test flight of any rocket in the Saturn family of rockets, which includes the Saturn V that was used to launch astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program.

NASA's Mighty Saturn V Moon Rocket: 10 Surprising Facts 

NASA's Apollo 6 mission launched the last uncrewed test flight of a Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 4, 1968. (Image credit: NASA)

The Saturn I was enormous compared to every rocket that came before it. It was almost three times as tall as the Jupiter-C rocket, which launched the first American satellite into orbit in 1958. It also produced more than 10 times the amount of thrust that the Jupiter-C rocket could. 

The liquid-powered rocket launched on its maiden voyage from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Despite a one-hour weather day, the flight was nearly perfect. It reached an altitude of 85 miles and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 15 minutes later. 

The only thing that went wrong was that its engines cut off 1.6 seconds early, but that wasn't a huge deal. Scientists figured out that this happened because there was too much liquid oxygen in the rocket and not enough propellant. 

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Hanneke Weitering

Hanneke Weitering is an editor at with 10 years of experience in science journalism. She has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time Hanneke likes to explore the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos. 

  • The Exoplanets Channel
    Very interesting
  • Arc Light
    Just so you know, the X-15 took off from Edwards AFB under the wing of a B-52 & was airdropped over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. The flight to the altitude record wasn't planned, but the rocket engine burned for two seconds longer than expected. The test flight was scheduled to peak at 280,000', but actually reached 314, 750' due to the extra rocket burn time.
  • Fourth Root
    Misleading wording. Bob White did not set the world altitude record on July 17th, 1962. Four Astronauts and two cosmonauts had flown higher prior to his flight. One could say it was the highest manned flight of a winged craft. But that's not the wording that was used.
  • DrRaviSharma
    On this date in 1969, I was part of NASA Apollo Team

    Contributed to Experiments in orbit and on Surface of Moon (ALSEP) etc.also trained astronauts

    Studied containation on and ouside Spacecraft.

    The Moon gave me employment to work for 5 Years on exciting Human Space flight Programs Skylab, Planning of Space Station and Space Shuttle

    See My picture taken with Buzz Aldrin in 2009
    I received Apollo Achievement Award from NASA dated July 20, 1969.

    Thanks Hanneke Weitering for today's Historic post

    Dr. Ravi Sharma
  • Mergatroid
    "Allegedly, the moon turns green because of its close proximity to Uranus"

    I'm sorry about that. I hear they have been investigating x-rays from the same source. I had no idea. I'll get a doctor to check into it.

    Sorry everyone.