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Celebrate the Saturn V’s Birthday by Watching the Largest Rocket in History Fly

Even Walter Cronkite lost his mind.

by Becky Ferreira
Nov 9 2015, 1:30pm

Apollo 8’s Saturn V on the launchpad. Image: NASA

The Saturn V rocket is objectively the most badass vehicle ever made. Screw your SR-71 Blackbirds. To hell with your Maglev trains. Shove your hoverboards up your butt. The Saturn V, flagship of the Apollo Moon landings, has them all beat for style, performance, and historical impact, hands-down, end of story.

Don't agree with me for some irrational and godforsaken reason? Then let this breathtaking clip of the rocket's maiden Apollo 4 launch, which went down 48 years ago today, vicariously melt your face off.

Apollo 4 launch. Video: Matthew Travis/YouTube

You heard it right: That's Walter Cronkite, arguably the most unflappable newsman in history, losing his shit over the raw power of the Saturn V.

"My God, our building's shaking here," he says with palpable delight. "Oh it's terrific, the building's shaking! This big blast window is shaking! We're holding it with our hands! Look at that rocket go into the clouds at 3,000 feet! Oh, the roar is terrific!"

We feel you, Walter. A lot of rockets have come and gone since the Saturn V was retired in 1973, but none have ever exceeded the sheer explosive wonder of this Apollo Age champ. It remains the largest and most powerful rocket of all time, standing 36 stories high and weighing about 6.2 million pounds when fully fueled. For comparison, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, slated for its first flight next year, will stand 22 stories high.

"It has more capability than any vehicle in history," Elon Musk said of the Falcon Heavy, "apart from the Saturn V."

Alas, the Saturn V rockets were also expendable launch vehicles, meaning that only the tiny command modules carrying the returning Apollo astronauts ever made it back to Earth. But though we don't have many physical remains of the beasts that gave us our first boosts to another world, we have plenty of nostalgically sepia-toned footage recording their pyrotechnic departures from our planet.

No doubt the launches were even more incredible to witness in person, but this visual mosaic of all 13 blast-offs is bound to give you a contact high nonetheless. Watch on, and pay your respects to this masterpiece of engineering, which repeatedly burned up in the atmosphere so that we didn't have to. Mad props, Saturn V. You're the real MVP.

All 13 Saturn V launches (multiscreen). Video: lunarmodule5/YouTube