Saturn V Markings

Most launch vehicles have some sort of paint patterns or markings to assist in tracking during launch or to regulate temperatures. The Saturn V was no different, and the markings changed during it's evolution from preflight versions through testing to operational manned launch vehicle. The markings varied until AS-503, when they remained constant (with one KNOWN exception) up until AS-513 (Skylab).

There is very little actual documentation dealing with the Saturn V markings. The NARTS (National Association of Rocketry Technical Service) offers an info packet of original technical drawings from NASA. These include a sheet describing some of the markings, but not all. This sheet, number 10M15001, gives dimensions for many of the markings and is generally accurate for AS-501 and 502. However, it does illustrate some markings that were not used.

I have a copy of a sheet obtained from MSFC which shows some of the markings but is incomplete and seems to have been drawn to assist contract modellers back in the mid 1960's. This sheet is not any more accurate than the above NARTS sheet. However, it does show the Flag marking but the dimensions don't match published ratios for the Flag.

The only reliable way to determine the markings is to scrutinize photos of the 14 stacked vehicles (500-F through 513) plus the various test stages. Using this method we have been able to trace the evolution of the markings. This is very much a work in progress.

I'll list the individual markings first, then a vehicle by vehicle summary of the variations. At the bottom of this page is a summary table of marking usage.

Thanks to Ed Dempsey, Jim Gerard, David Weeks, Chuck Corway, Rick Sternbach, Kipp Teague and Tod Lauer for their help with this research.

S-IC Stage Markings

"USA" RP-1 tank marking: There are two versions of this marking, once with a rounded "S" and one with a square "S". The former appears on stages manufactured at the Marshall SpaceFlight Center (S-IC-T, S-IC-1, S-IC-2) and the latter on those manufactured at the Michoud Louisiana Plant ( S-IC-F, S-IC-3 through 15). The letters are 60 inches high, 50 inches wide with a thickness of 12 inches. The separation between letters was 20 inches.

The American Flag Marking: This appeared on all flight stages (S-IC-1 through 15), though covered by ice before launch. It was generally centered vertically on the LOX tank above the "USA" and was 138 inches wide, 78 inches high with a blue star field 42 by 60 inches and stripes 6 inches wide. The placement of the Flag varies somewhat, with some being placed slightly higher than center.

Fin letters: These appeared on all S-IC stages and were 14 by 24 inches with a thickness of of 3 inches. The square border surrounding the letter was 1 inch thick, spaced 3 inches from the letter on all sides and measured 22 by 32 inches.

First motion marking: This appeared on engine fairings "B" and "D" on all flight stages and were a series of three black and three white stripes 3 inches high and 15 inches wide for a total of 18 inches high.

Position numbers: These markings are centered above the four hold-down posts and vary in width depending on the number. The numerals themselves (I,II,III,IIII) are 20 inches high by 3 inches wide with 3 inches of separation between numerals. The border is 1 inch thick, spaced 3 inches from the numeral on all sides. Depending on the number, the overall size of the graphic varied: "I" is 11 by 28, "II" is 17 by 28, "III" is 23 by 28 and finally "IIII" being 29 by 28.

Stage Serial numbers: These are approximately 6 inches by 3 inches, with a thickness of 1 inch. Spacing is 1 inch. They are to the right of each Position number and are centered either 5 inches from the top or bottom of the position number's top edge. Flight stages starting with AS-503 carried these markings. The placement of this marking varies from vehicle to vehicle and is considered either "low" or "high" in relation to the Position Number. There are up to four of these on each S-IC.

The below table shows location information for the serial numbers. After examining many photos, I finally have a complete list. Note that several missions did not have a number in the Position One area for some reason. We may never know why.

Position I Position II Position III Position IIII
AS-501 (Apollo 4) None None None None
AS-502 (Apollo 6) None None None None
AS-503 (Apollo 8) Low Low Low Low
AS-504 (Apollo 9) None High High High
AS-505 (Apollo 10) High High High High
AS-506 (Apollo 11) Low Low Low Low
AS-507 (Apollo 12) None High High High
AS-508 (Apollo 13) None High High High
AS-509 (Apollo 14) High High High High
AS-510 (Apollo 15) High High High High
AS-511 (Apollo 16) High High High High
AS-512 (Apollo 17) High High High High
AS-513 (Skylab 1) High High High High

Forward Skirt "Drain" marking: This seems to exist only on 500-F and is just below the Forward Skirt under each drain opening.

S-II Markings

Camera Targets: These round markings were spaced around the forward skirt and used only on 500-F and 501. Although shown on the NARTS sheet as being on a disk bolted to stringers in the forward skirt, photos reveal that they were painted onto the surface of the stringer and skirt.

"United States": These are centered vertically above the black stripes of the S-IC and S-II. Each letter is 20 by 30 inches, thickness of 4 inches with separation of 6 inches between letters and 30 inches between words. The entire series of letters is 450 inches tall (height of all letters plus spaces between letters and words).

Vertical Motion Targets: This marking is centered over Position II and is a "dotted line" of six rectangles. Each rectangle is 10 inches high by 20 inches wide with separation of 20 inches between elements.

S-IVB Markings

Sway Targets: These markings are just below the S-IVB aft skirt on the S-IVB/S-II interstage; each one is two black squares 12 inches on a side, the lower one offset 12 inches to the right of the centerline of the top one. The pair of makings over the Position IIII centerline are spaced 30 degrees to ether side. The pair over Position II are spaced 60 degree to either side.

Stage Orientation Marking: This marking has been seen on S-IVB-501 only and appears to have been partially removed after stacking. It was applied below the Forward Skirt on the Hydrogen tank, along the Position lines (above each hold-down post).

Instrument Unit Marking

Coordinate Marking: These markings (+Y, -Y, +Z, -Z) were the coordinate system for the guidance computer. They were applied to the I.U. for reference only. These markings are diametrically opposed to the coordinate markings used for the Apollo Spacecraft, no reason has been found as yet.

There is another "marking" which is visible on the I.U. which is not really a marking but is necessary for an accurate model. At the "-Y" position (coresponding to Position IIII ) there is a white panel visible. One some flights there are two white panels, one at -Y and one halfway between it and +Z (Position I). See example images below.

Thanks to Tod Lauer for help with this research

Vehicle IU White Panel
AS-501 (Apollo 4) None
AS-502 (Apollo 6) None
AS-503 (Apollo 8) None
AS-504 (Apollo 9) None
AS-505 (Apollo 10) 1
AS-506 (Apollo 11) 1
AS-507 (Apollo 12) 1
AS-508 (Apollo 13) 2
AS-509 (Apollo 14) 2
AS-510 (Apollo 15) 2
AS-511 (Apollo 16) 2
AS-512 (Apollo 17) 2
AS-513 (Skylab 1) None

Individual Vehicle Variations

The Saturn V which most model kits were based on was 500F- the Facilities Integration Vehicle. It was the first Saturn V to be stacked and rolled out to the launch pad to test the VAB, the Mobile Launcher and the pad integration. It was made up of non-flight components, assembled to flight specifications.

The S-IC-F had only one F-1 engine installed, "mass simulators" occupied the other four engine positions. It had black roll patterns which extended up onto the intertank and Position numbers. Missing from this prototype were the American Flag on the LOX tank, the first motion markings located on engine fairings B and D as well as the stage serial number. This stage had the "Drain" markings at the top of the LOX tank.

The S-II-F wore the correct black roll patterns and "United States" script, and carried the Camera Targets. The Vertical motion targets were missing from this vehicle. On the S-II/S-IVB interstage, the retrorocket covers were painted red, flight vehicle versions were white. There were no Sway Targets on S-II-F.

The S-IVB used on 500F was a modified facilities stage used to test the Saturn IB pad equipment; hence it retained it's 200 Series paint job (Saturn IB versions of the S-IVB were "200" series while the Saturn V version was a "500" series, there are structural and equipment differences between the two.) As it was, the markings were not even correct for a Saturn IB; the black roll pattern on the forward skirt being incorrect and the ullage motors were painted silver instead of white.

The Apollo spacecraft on 500F was a boilerplate, overall white with a black band around the base of the Service Module. Four markings similar to sway targets (two white squares on a diagonal) were on the black band. None of these markings made it to flight vehicles.

A couple of minor points dealing with the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT): The Sway Damper arms were attached to the S-II/S-IVB interstage, they were moved to the Launch Escape Tower before Apollo 4- also the Tail Service Masts used on 500F and on Apollo 4 were of a different design than used on later flights (figure 2). The LUT was not completed before the roll out of 500F, so it is missing some details visible on later flights. If you undertake the task of building a model of it, be sure to use photo references from operational launches.

Apollo 4 (AS-501)

501 was the first flight of the Saturn V. This vehicle is unique in several ways. The first stage roll patterns had originally been identical to 500F when it was discovered that the temperatures in the intertank area rose too high. The black areas were painted over with white paint in the VAB. If you study photos of 501 you can still see the faint outline of the black areas.

  • Small photo gallery of AS-501's marking differences

    The S-IC had no serial number, the "USA" was the MSFC type (rounded "S") and the engine fairings carried the First Motion marking for the first time.

    The S-II carried Camera targets for the first and last time on a flight vehicle.

    Apollo 6 (AS-502)

    502 had the black roll pattern on the S-IC intertank painted over, subsequent vehicles were delivered from the factory (Michoud) without this pattern. This was the last S-IC without a serial number and the last one built at MSFC.

    Apollo 8-17 (AS-503-512)

    Here the markings are constant for all flights except for the placement of the S-IC serial number. The "S" in "USA" on the S-IC is the squared off version, typical of the Michoud plant production.

    Skylab 1 (AS-513)

    The same in all other respects, NASA deleted the sway targets from the S-IVB/S-II interstage.


    Markings Usage Summary

    Vehicle Number

    < >
    (Numbers linked to vehicle photo)
    500F 501 502503504505506507508509510511512513

    Engine Fairing
    First Motion
    S-IC Serial

    Copyright 1999-2005 by John Duncan
    Comments and questions welcome. All photographs contained on these pages are the author's, unless otherwise noted. No unauthorized reproduction without permission.

    Last update: June 14, 2003