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Fourth Annual Saturn/Apollo Reunion (2007) Gallery

Walt Cunningham

Walt Cunningham then addressed the crowd:

Thank you, Jim, for not simply introducing me as an "ancient astronaut." [laughter]

At events like this, I almost feel like I'm living in the past. Then I remember it, and that's not so bad. Those are wonderful days, back in the golden age of manned spaceflight. It was wonderful for us, wonderful for the space program, wonderful for America, and it was really wonderful for the world.

In another week, we'll be celebrating the 38th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon, a truly historic day in the history of man. Jim, Steve, and the rest of you who I saw standing up here who are working on the Ares now, I'd like to remind you of some words that Max Faget said, just a couple of years before he died. As you may recall, Max was the designer for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Max said, "One of these days, they're going to go back to the moon, and then they'll find out just how good a job we did."

I believe the manned space program came from right here. The history of man in space is the history of building rockets to lift man off the face of the earth. As astronauts, we got the thrill of riding these monster rockets. But there were 400,000 other individuals also making their essential contributions. So what was really political and really unique forty years ago, but we never would have made it to the moon without the Saturn V.

The Saturn V won the Space Race for America [interrupted by applause]. Nothing compares to it, even today. It was a very complex vehicle with a perfect safety record. And don't ever take this amazing record for granted.

Let me take you back for a few minutes to the good old days of the 1960s. The Soviet Union was way ahead in experience and they had all of the space "firsts." They operated at six times the launch rate and three times the spending rate as we did in the United States. But in 1961, President Kennedy threw down the gauntlet which said we would land a man and return him safely to the earth in this decade. The Space Race was on!

And it was a race for the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. Which system of government would prevail? Was it going to be the Soviet communism system, or here in the United States, the democratic system?

Well, that was on my mind this past April when I spent 10 days in Russia, visiting Baikonur, Star City, and many of their space museums. And most of those areas emphasized the fact that they had a home-grown space program -- emphasizing their Russian rocket scientists. There was never any mentioned of the Germans involved or the hardware that they took from Peenemünde and the other places in eastern Europe.

But I reminded them, kind of poking my hosts [laughter], that their Model 1 rocket looked amazingly like a German V-2 [laughter]. They [unintelligble] Soyuz launch vehicle. It's a simple, reliable booster that's capable of flying relatively simple missions, but they got there with more their share of booster failures and launch disasters. On one attempt to launch a new ICBM, a fully-fueled vehicle misfired and wiped out 165 people, including the commander of their strategic missile forces at that time. And they had many other booster accidents, including a manned launch abort, a two-man pad abort.

And they had a particularly unfortunate record with their big boosters. The Russian N-1 vehicle was built for the circumlunar and lunar landing missions that they had planned. It was the Russian equivalent, if you will, of the Saturn V: 10 millions pounds of thrust, 30 engines on the first stage.

Well, the N-1 had four launches from Baikonur in the period between 1969-1972. The first one lasted 69 seconds before it destroyed itself. The second one -- that was really a disaster: one second after lift-off, it exploded, destroying one pad that they had built for the N-1. Incidentally, that pad was rebuilt, eventually, for use for the Energia and Buran. Energia/Buran, that's the one that's identical to the shuttle orbiter -- it's always been a puzzle to me until the Russians pointed out that the same laws of physics applied on both sides of the Atlantic. [laughter]

The third one made it all the way almost to a minute before it had to be destroyed. The fourth one had the longest-lasting flight of all of the N-1 rockets, and made it 107 seconds before they had to destroy it.

In the meantime, the Saturn rockets were nearly perfect on every single mission. By 1969, we were on the moon. The Soviet Union had been trounced, technically and operationally. We had developed a complex piece of hardware which enabled us to fly complex missions. And you if you look at the pantheon of space hardware over the years, the Saturn V is still in a class by itself. It made possible six landings on the moon, and if you include the Saturn IB, Saturn rockets safely placed 45 crewmen into orbit.

Well, in 10 short years the Space Race was over, America had won, and the race was called off. That gives us the luxury of now celebrating Apollo for what it was: It was a victory in the political battle of the Cold War. The Saturn V made that victory possible.

But I didn't say all that to the Russians, alas! [laughter] But I did cause some excitement when I said, "Unsere Deutschen war besser als eure Deutschen" [scattered laughter from the German speakers] -- "Our Germans were better than your Germans." [general laughter, then applause and cheering]

Earlier this evening I saw Konrad Dannenberg and Walter Jacoby around. I want to thank you. But I also want to remind you, don't let that go to your head [laughter]. We have two home-grown stars as well, and one of them is with us this evening.

Dr. George Mueller is one of America's space pioneers. In 2003 he was recognized as one of the top 100 stars of aerospace. George was one of those doing the heavy lifting back in the 1960s. From 1963 to 1969, Dr. Mueller led the program that put America on the moon. As head of the Apollo Manned Spaceflight Program, he was responsible for the Gemini, Apollo, and Saturn programs. In those days, George was not only my boss, but he was also the boss of everyone here at Marshall Space Flight Center. He has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science and three NASA Distinguished Service Medals. And after leaving NASA, Dr. Mueller had a distinguished career in private industry that included, most recently, CEO of Kistler Aerospace -- that's a commercial launch firm -- and he's still, I think, on the board of Rocketplane Kistler.

It's my pleasure to introduce my old boss, and many of your old bosses here tonight, George Mueller.

Walt Cunningham speaking at the Fourth Annual Saturn/Apollo Reunion (2007) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
Time picture taken Fri Jul 13 19:15:14 2007
File name dsc39603.jpg
Location picture taken Space Camp Cafeteria
US Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville, AL
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