The Missing Apollos 2 and 3

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 14, 2017 4:52 pm
Apollo 8's launch, also known as SA-503. NASA.

Apollo 8’s launch, also known as SA-503. NASA.

If you look up a list of all Apollo missions NASA flew in the 1960s and 70s, you’d see Apollo 1, then Apollo 4 through 17. So what exactly happened to the missing Apollos 2 and 3?

When NASA started testing Apollo and Saturn hardware in the early 1960s — the hardware that would eventually fly to the Moon — it established a pretty standard nomenclature. Every rocket was given a letter designation for the rocket and payload type followed by a number indicating the launch.

By and large, the Saturn I launches were designated “SA” for Saturn-Apollo (showing they were Saturn hardware tests first and Apollo hardware tests second) followed by a sequential number 1 through 10. The later Saturn IB launches were given the same “SA” designation but were give a 200-series numeric designation. Saturn Vs were designated “AS” for Apollo-Saturn and were, predictably, given numbers beginning with 501.

Those are the internal designations. Of course each mission also had it’s mission name because NASA can’t keep things simple… I covered how this mess fed into the missing Apollos 2 and 3 missions in an old blog archived at PopSci, but I wanted to bring it back because it’s a common question — so the concise answer is in the latest episode of Vintage Space below! 

Sources: Original long version of this blog post archived at PopSci (brought it up again for the sake of a good video!); Deke! by Deke Slayton and Michael Cassutt; The Apollo Spacecraft Chronology vol. 4.


Vintage Space

Vintage Space is all about digging into the minutia of the space age. Rather than retelling glossy stories of astronauts, Vintage Space peels back that veneer to look at the real stories -- the innovations that failed, the unrealized technologies, and the human elements that are less publicity-friendly so often remain buried. Gaining a clear picture of spaceflight's past ultimately helps us understand our present position in space and have a more realistic expectation of what the future might bring.

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