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This Infographic Shows How Hard It Is to Leave Earth

Getting to space is hard. You need gigantic rockets ready to propel people and cargo through the atmosphere at 5 miles per second and escape gravity’s grasp. But it’s easy to lose perspective with neck tilted upwards at a Saturn V. This useful infographic puts all manned spacecraft, their launch systems, and their occupants to scale:

120314_AllSpacecraft_RedditClick to enlarge!

The image comes courtesy of Reddit user Heaney555, and it packs in a lot of information. It’s basically going in chronological order, the top half showing the progression of spacecraft and their launch vehicles and the bottom half showing space stations.

The most striking thing about this image might be the clear representation of the size of the launch vehicles compared to their spacecraft. It really illustrates how much power it takes to fight gravity. The comparison between the Mercury-Redstone (second from the left on the top row) and the X-15 (fourth from the left on top) is a good one.

Alan Shepard launched atop a Redstone on his Mercury flight in 1961 and reached a peak altitude of a little over 116 miles. The X-15 reached a peak altitude in 1963 with Joe Walker in the cockpit, and though he qualified for astronaut wings on the flight, he only reached 67 miles. Looking at the size of the launch vehicles, the Redstone booster rocket and the B-52 bomber respectively, shows how much easier it is to take a direct route to space, launching straight up rather than flying through the atmosphere first. There’s a reason we go to space on rockets.  

And even when you are going straight up with a rocket launch, any addition to the size of your spacecraft means you need a much larger booster. The Saturn 1 rocket, eighth from the left, was too small to get the Apollo command-service and lunar modules together into orbit. To get both spacecraft just around the Earth NASA needed to massive Saturn V, ninth from left. It’s a huge jump.

This graphic doesn’t include future programs that might be cancelled or past programs that were axed before they got off the ground. But the fact remains: getting things into space is hard, and takes a lot of power.

Feature Image, and full image, via Reddit

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  1. ACHF says:

    There is disagreement about where space begins, of course, and this shows up in the date for the X-15. The USAF used 50 miles. The FAI used 100 Km (64 miles). By the USAF standard (and they did award Astronaut wings for the flight) the first X-15 sub orbital flight was in July of 1962. (Generally a great graphic though)

  2. CrazyZeal0t says:

    The Voskhod is definitely too large, the B-52 to its left it is 57% longer than than the Voskhod is tall and the Titan II GLV on the right should be 8% taller. (according to Wikipedia specifications, anyway)

  3. Ted Thompson says:

    Wrong. The Saturn V was needed to get to the moon, the Saturn I slightly modified as the Saturn IB did get the “Apollo service module and lunar module” into orbit. 
    While we’re at it, Voskhod and Soyuz use the same basic size rocket, both derived from the R-7, so the scale here ius a bit off. 

  4. Akco says:

    America, be honest. Is this where all the money went? Rocket making in the 60’s?