Up Goer Five
Neil Tyson once lamented that the Saturn V rocket, a vehicle once heralded as the first generation of a coming era of interplanetary rocket travel, was taken for granted by a world looking to the future. And instead of the first of its kind, it was the last.
We haven’t surpassed the Saturn V. The largest, most powerful rocket ever flown by anybody, ever, the thirty-six-story-tall Saturn V was the first and only rocket to launch people from Earth to someplace else in the universe. It enabled every Apollo mission to the Moon from 1969 through 1972, as well as the 1973 launch of Skylab 1, the first U.S. space station.
Inspired in part by the successes of the Saturn V and the momentum of the Apollo program, visionaries of the day foretold a future that never came to be: space habitats, Moon bases, and Mars colonies up and running by the 1990s. But funding for the Saturn V evaporated as the Moon missions wound down. Additional production runs were canceled, the manufacturers’ specialized machine tools were destroyed, and skilled personnel had to find work on other projects. Today U.S. engineers can’t even build a Saturn V clone.
With this epic, holy-crap-rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-but-also-crying comic, xkcd provides us with a simplified set of plans, in easy-to-understand terms, to build the Saturn “Up Goer” Five/V. Think of it as a swift kick in the pants to get our space-exploration efforts back on the right track.
Sure, what was impossible yesterday can be made possible today, through the hard work and application of science. But we must also remember that if we don’t keep stoking the fires of curiosity, what was possible yesterday can be made impossible today.
Otherwise, much like failing to point the end with lots of fire toward the ground, we will find ourselves “having a bad problem and you will not go to space today”.