Here's how the Saturn V rocket compares to today's rockets

Saturn V remains tallest, most powerful rocket ever

ORLANDO, Fla. – Known as the grand daddy of all rockets, the Saturn V sent the first man to the moon in 1969, but how does it compare to today’s heavy-lift rockets, some of which will also return astronauts to the place where Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind?

Even with the advent of commercial rockets, the Saturn V remains the tallest and most powerful rocket ever, and the only one thus far to help carry humans beyond Earth's orbit. NASA used the Saturn V to send astronauts to the moon in the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 spacecraft.

A Saturn V also launched Apollo 13, but the spacecraft, not the rocket, had a problem and the astronauts didn't land.

The last Saturn V was used to launch Skylab, America's first space station, on May 14, 1973.

Modern rockets that have potential launches to the moon or beyond include SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, NASA's Space Launch System and New Glenn's Blue Origin.


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Below is a statistical comparison of the Saturn V, the space shuttle and many of today's heavy-lift rockets.

Saturn V rocket. The Apollo 11 liftoff as seen from Launch Complex 39 press site, July 16, 1969. Image courtesy NASA History Office.

Saturn V

Status: Retired in 1973
Height: 363 feet (111 meters)
Liftoff thrust: 7.6 million pounds (3.4 million kilograms)
Capability: 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) to LEO
Payloads: Apollo spacecraft and astronauts, Skylab

File photo: A SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch from pad 39A. SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force are targeting June 24, 2019 to launch 24 payloads from Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon Heavy.

Falcon Heavy

Status: First test flight took place February 6
Height: 229.6 feet (70 meters)
Liftoff thrust: 5 million pounds
Capability: 140,660 pounds (63,800 kilograms) to LEO
(Note: Capability refers to the maximum payload weight the rocket can deliver to low-Earth orbit.)
Planned payloads: One Tesla (dummy payload), satellites, cargo, astronauts, tourists

SpaceX Falcon Heavy on Kennedy Space Center launchpad 39A and NASA rendering of the Space Launch System, still in development.

Space Launch System

NASA is building the Space Launch System, a rocket designed to take people into deep space and potentially Mars. The space agency will be able to configure the rocket differently for each mission.
Status: No earlier than late 2019
Height: 322 - 365 feet (98.1 - 111.3 meters)
Liftoff thrust: Up to 11.9 million pounds (5 million kg)
Capability: 150,000 - 290,000 pounds (70,000 - 130,000 kilograms) to LEO
Planned payloads: Cargo, astronauts

A screengrab of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket launch simulation.

New Glenn

Blue Origin -- the space startup created by Amazon's Jeff Bezos -- has a small, reusable rocket to send paying tourists on trips to sub-orbital space. But the company also has plans for a monstrous new machine that can send people and payloads to Earth's orbit. It'll come in two configurations: one with two stages and another with an added third stage for extra boost.

Status: First test flight no earlier than 2020
Height: 326 feet (99.4 meters)
Liftoff thrust: 3.9 million pounds (1.8 million kilograms)
Capability: 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms) to LEO
Planned payloads: Satellites, humans

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV booster that will launch the 10th Wideband Global SATCOM mission for the U.S. Air Force rolls to Space Launch Complex-37 before going vertical in preparation for launch. (Photo credit: United Launch Alliance)

Delta IV Heavy

SpaceX's competitor, United Launch Alliance, has the Delta IV Heavy. This rocket was first tested in 2004, and it's taller than the Falcon Heavy, but SpaceX is promising to take up heavier payloads. The Delta IV Heavy doesn't fly often, but it's been the U.S. military's go-to rocket for sending large national security satellites into orbit.

Status: Currently operational
Height: 235 feet (71.6 meters)
Liftoff thrust: 2.1 million pounds (1 million kilograms)
Capability: 62,500 pounds (28,000 kilograms) to LEO
Payloads: Satellites


United Launch Alliance is developing a new generation of rockets, dubbed Vulcan after the Roman god of fire. The concept was first announced in 2015, and CEO Tory Bruno has said the most powerful version of the Vulcan could rival the Falcon Heavy's power. The Vulcan can add thrust by strapping extra rocket boosters to the sides of its main column.
Status: First test flight no earlier than 2020
Height: 228 ft (69.5 meters)
Liftoff thrust: 3.8 million pounds (1.7 million kg)
Capability: 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg)

2011: The space shuttle Discovery launches on its 39th and final mission. The mission transported several items to the international space station, including the Permanent Multipurpose Module Leonardo, which was left permanently docked to one of the station's ports. At the end of the mission, Discovery had completed a cumulative total of a whole year (365 days) in space.

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle refers to the reusable spacecraft system that NASA developed to send people and payloads into orbit between 1981 and 2011. The systems consisted of a white, winged "Orbiter" with powerful engines that attached to a massive external fuel tank and two rocket boosters on the launch pad. There were five Orbiters capable of spaceflight -- Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis.

Status: Retired in 2011
Height: 184 feet (56.1 meters) including external tank
Capability: 65,000 pounds (2,900 kilograms) to LEO
Liftoff thrust: 7.8 million pounds (3.5 million kg)
Payload: Astronauts, experiments, supplies, other cargo, satellites

CNN contributed to this story.

About the Author:

Daniel started with WKMG-TV in 2000 and became the digital content manager in 2009. When he's not working on, Daniel likes to head to the beach or find a sporting event nearby.