The Saturn V was a multistage liquid-fuel expendable rocket used by NASA's Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 until 1973. In total NASA launched thirteen Saturn V rockets with no loss of payload. It remains the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever brought to operational status from a height, weight and payload standpoint. The Soviet Energia, which flew two test missions in the late 1980s before being canceled, had slightly more takeoff thrust.
The largest production model of the Saturn family of rockets, the Saturn V was designed under the direction of Wernher von Braun at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with Boeing, North American Aviation, Douglas Aircraft Company, and IBM as the lead contractors. The three stages of the Saturn V were developed by various NASA contractors, but following a sequence of mergers and takeovers all of them are now owned by Boeing.
In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. Lyndon B. Johnson—at the time Senate Majority Leader and later President—recalled feeling "the profound shock of realizing that it might be possible for another nation to achieve technological superiority over this great country of ours." The resulting Sputnik crisis continued, and by 1961, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth aboard Vostok 1 during the first human spaceflight, many people in the United States felt the Soviets had developed a considerable lead in the Space Race.
On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced that America would attempt to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. At that time, the only experience the United States had with human spaceflight was the 15-minute suborbital flight of Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7. No rocket then available was capable of propelling a manned spacecraft to the Moon in one piece. The Saturn I was in development, but would not fly for six months. Although larger than other contemporary rockets, it would require several launches to place all the components of a lunar spacecraft in orbit. The much larger Saturn V had not been designed, although its powerful F-1 engine had already been developed and test fired.