9.6 How is it possible that the Saturn V blueprints have been lost?

IN A NUTSHELL: They haven’t. They’re preserved on microfilm at the Marshall Space Flight Center and on paper at Rocketdyne and in US federal archives. The F-1 engines of the giant rocket are being studied in detail and used as engineering templates for the next generation of spacecraft. Three whole Saturn V rockets are on public display, available to anyone who cares to examine them.

THE DETAILS: John Lewis, in his 1996 book Mining the Sky, reported that he had tried in vain to obtain the blueprints of the Saturn V rocket: “My attempts to find them several years ago met with no success: the plans have evidently been ‘lost’. The fleet has been destroyed. The plans are gone”. Some hoax theorists have built on this report to claim that the blueprints were destroyed to hide the fact that the Saturn V actually didn’t work and couldn’t reach the Moon as NASA instead claimed.

However, in 2000 NASA clarified* that the blueprints still exist as microfilm at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Federal Archives in East Point, Georgia, store approximately 82 cubic meters (2,900 cubic feet) of Saturn documents and Rocketdyne (the manufacturer of the main engines of all three Saturn V stages) has preserved dozens of volumes of Saturn-related information as part of its knowledge retention program.

* Saturn 5 Blueprints Safely in Storage, Space.com, March 13, 2000.

Figure 9-8. A detail from one of the allegedly lost schematics of the Saturn V. Credit: Up-ship.com.

Moreover, the fleet has not been “destroyed”. There are three full, original Saturn V rockets on display and freely accessible to the public: one at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, one at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and one at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama (Figure 9-9).

Figure 9-9. An original Saturn V on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: Spacecamp.com.

In 2013, a team of engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, actually took to pieces one of the original F-1 engines of the first stage of the Saturn V rocket and test-fired its gas generator, the component that powers the engine’s turbopump, which had to inject almost three tons of propellant per second into the thrust chamber. In other words, the fact that these engines really work as advertised is not just a 40-year-old claim: it has actually been put to the test.