How do you fly to the moon? What sort of space craft can fly you all that distance? This page will tell you all about the space craft built by NASA to get astronauts onto the moon.

Apollo astronaut on the moon.

How do you visit the moon?

The moon is nearly 250,000 miles away. To get there you need to power a rocket into space, breaking free from earth's gravity, and then fly that vast distance. At the other end you need to slow down, and then land on an inhospitable rocky alien world. All the way you face the terrible cold of space - and of course no air to breathe outside your spaceship!

Finally, you have to go all the way back to earth, braving the terrible heat your spaceship will face as it comes back through the atmosphere, and down to land - in the sea!

To do this job, NASA scientists invented the most powerful vehicle ever built - the Saturn V rocket.

This rocket, along with the astronauts and the space machines it carried made this incredible task possible, on 20th July 1969.

Apollo 11 launches
How tall is the Saturn V rocket?

Preparing for launch

The Saturn V moon rocket is the tallest rocket yet built, at 110 metres high. NASA had to build a new workshop to assemble the rocket in - the Vertical Assembly building, which is the tallest single storey building in the world. The rocket is put together standing up, on a platform.

Once the Saturn V rocket was ready for launch, the platform was moved to the launch area, by an enormous transporter. It moved along a road, on tracks, like a tank, at its maximum speed of 1 mile per hour, with the rocket standing up on top of it. The flat top of the crawler is bigger than a tennis court!

The launch site is three and half miles from the workshop, so if there is a problem with the launch, the workshop will not be damaged by any fire or explosion. The last Saturn V launched in the 1970s, but the workshop and the crawler are still used to prepare and transport the much smaller Space Shuttle, for its missions.

The Apollo crawler

Explore the mighty Saturn V Moon Rocket

Hover your mouse over the rocket below to see details of each of the parts that make up this enormous space craft.

In case of emergency...

If the rocket blew up before or during the launch, the rocket motors in this tower powered the command module up and away from the rocket, They lifted the command module high enough for the parachutes to be able to land the astronauts safely far from the launch pad.

The Apollo Launch Escape System

Preparing to land on the moon

Once the rocket was safely on its way to the moon, the Command Module (the cone shaped bit at the top), where the astronauts sat, detached from the top of the rocket and pulled the Lunar Module, or LEM as it was nicknamed, out of the top of the rocket.

There were four doors on the top of the rocket that opened like a flower to make this easier. The Command Module stays attached until the LEM detaches to land on the moon.


Going to the moon

Once the second stage had Used up all its fuel, it would detach from the next and last stage of the rocket. Between the two stages (and also between the first and second stages) there was a ring that connected the stages together called an Interstage. This would drop away and then the engines on the next stage started to power it upwards again.

Once they were up in space, the third stage used all its remaining fuel to blast the command module and lunar module, away from earth, and on to the moon, a quarter of a million miles away!


Getting into space

After separation from the first stage, the second stage engines fired up its engines, and blasted the rocket up to a height of 176 Km - and into space! By this time, the rocket would be doing over 15,000 miles per hour!

This stage of the rocket used liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel. When filled with fuel, the fuels represented 97% of its weight. The liquid hydrogen had to be stored at incredibly cold temperatures, and this made ice form on the outside of the rocket which fell off in chunks as the rocket launched.

Only six minutes after the engines started, all the fuel would be used up, the engines stopped, and the second stage would separate from the rocket, and would fall back to earth.


Getting off the ground

The incredibly powerful first stage of the Saturn V rocket was built by Boeing - the aircraft company famous for making the Jumbo Jet.

At launch time, the first stage weighed over 2000 metric tonnes - about the same as 12 Jumbo jets!

Most of the weight was fuel - there were two enormous fuel tanks inside the rocket, the top one for liquid oxygen and the other for RP1 - a special rocket fuel that is a lot like airplane fuel.

These two fuels were mixed and burned by the rockets engines, at a rate of nearly 8000 litres every second!

The first stage had not one but five F1 rocket motors - the most powerful rocket engine ever built. Together these rocket engines produced enough power to generate all the electricity the whole city of New York uses for over an hour, and as much noise as 8 million hi-fi stereos!

The first stage took the rocket from the launch pad up to a height of 61Km, all in the first 2 and a half minutes of the flight. Then it dropped away from the rocket to fall back to earth - landing in the sea.

The LEM on the moon

Landing on the moon - the Lunar Module

The Lunar excursion module (or LEM as the astronauts called it) was a spider-like spacecraft designed to land on the moon. The lunar module was pulled out of the top of the rocket by the command module, and when joined together, gave the astronauts two tiny rooms to live in on their three day flight to the moon.

Once in orbit around the moon, two of the three astronauts used the LEM to fly down to the moon.

The bottom part of the LEM held all the experiments and equipment the crew would need on the moon, and sometimes even a little car to drive around the moon in. When it blasted off for the journey home, the LEM left its legs on the moon!

The LEM on its way back home, having left its legs on the moon
The CSM still attached to service module, in orbit over the moon

Getting back to earth - the Command Module

The command module was the top part of the rocket, where the three astronauts sat at launch. It was the only bit of the enormous rocket that made it back to earth.

The command module was connected to the service module - a dustbin shaped unit, that held air and water for the trip, and the powerful rocket engine that brough them home from the moon.

The bottom of the command module was nearly flat, and made to withstand the terrible heat that is generated when a space craft drops back down to earth from space. Finally it would land in the sea, after being slowed down by three parachutes.

The command module - the bit of the rocket that brings the astronauts back home.

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