See Footage of the Saturn V launch during NASA’s Apollo program In the 1960s and 1970s, one thing that strikes you — more than the polyester-heavy fashions and retro haircuts — is how Crowds of spectators far away from the main event.
There were many good reasons for this, one of which was noise: loud sounds kill, and few human-made things were loud Shani v.
When the Apollo astronauts headed for the moon, they traveled more than 3.2 miles (5.1 km) separating them from the cheering, on-looking crowd. Even at this distance, the noise was incredible. A common myth at the time was that the sound waves from the Saturn V’s engines were so powerful that they melted concrete on the launch pad and set grass on fire a mile (1.6 km) away (both false).
NASA measurements at the time captured the launch noise at 204 decibels. Compare that to the sound of a jet taking off, which is between 120 and 160 decibels. Hearing risk if sustained for more than 30 seconds. Even at a distance of 1.5 miles (2.4km), the sound of the Saturn V launch has been recorded at 120 decibels – about as loud as a rock concert or a car horn at very close range.
“I’m always struck by the physicality of a launch,” says Anthony Rue, a Florida cafe owner who has been watching launch shows since the days of the Saturn V. “In the 1970s there was an audio device called SensorAround. It was used to create a subsonic seismic ‘experience’ in theaters in disaster movies like Earthquake.
“Startups, from a closer look, are like Sensorround,” says Roo. “You might feel a slight shudder, then a building rattle in your chest before you hear the actual sound. The subsonic bass frequencies blast your ears. A few seconds later, a sound like a giant welding torch merges with a roar.”
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Last year, a team of scientists at Brigham Young University in Utah calculated That’s how loud the Saturn V was. They came up with a finding remarkably similar to NASA’s own records – 203 decibels.
The difference between 160 and 200-odd decibels isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it is.
“One hundred and seventy decibels is the equivalent of 10 airplane engines. Two hundred would be 10,000 engines,” said Kent Key, a professor of physics at Brigham Young University and leader of the study at the time.