The rocket itself is magnificent, yes, but with so many ins and outs to it, curious if the entire design was solely purpose built, or if there were features specifically for aesthetic purposes.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:34

2 Answers 2


I don't know of any features on the Saturn V that are solely aesthetic in purpose. The flags and USA markings come closest, but they are ostensibly there to identify the origin of the vehicle. The overall white paint scheme is to minimize heating of the cryogenic propellant tanks from sunlight. The interrupted black stripes along the fuselage provide visual/photographic reference points, particularly helpful in seeing if the vehicle is changing its roll attitude and determining exact rates of motion in frame-by-frame photo analysis.

The overall long and skinny cylindrical shape, and all of the large-scale features, are functions of aerodynamics and manufacturability as well as the functions of each part. The proportions are not necessarily optimal for either of those major constraints, and some engineer's aesthetic sense (or Wernher von Braun's) may have influenced them, but engineering requirements certainly dominate the silhouette.

The conical fairings at the base of the first stage are needed to streamline the outboard engines, which are mounted at the edge of the stage; their shape was probably chosen for ease of manufacture rather than for aesthetics or optimal aerodynamics.

It's occasionally claimed that the fins on the first stage have no function and are a purely aesthetic choice on von Braun's part, but this is incorrect. The fins are fixed in place; attitude control during the first-stage burn is performed by the gimbaled first-stage engines. The fins help keep the stage from tumbling during the first-to-second-stage separation, and in some catastrophic multiple-engine-failure situations, would keep the rocket stable long enough for the launch escape system to get the command module away. They probably would have been deleted to save weight if more Saturn Vs had been ordered.

A non-tapering or slowly-tapering shape is good for aerodynamics, especially at transonic and supersonic speeds; some drag is induced at each change in diameter, so you don't want to do it abruptly or without good reason. The five engines of the Saturn V second stage forced its diameter to be similar to that of the first stage, so it was convenient to make it identical.

The third stage, S-IVB, was also used as the second stage for the smaller Saturn I-B launcher, and its diameter matched that of the Saturn I-B first stage, avoiding a taper there.

The tapered adapter section between the third stage and the Apollo CSM is just large enough to contain the LM and the very large engine bell of the CSM; the conical shape of the command module is established by its method of re-entry, and so on.

I'm sure some of the Saturns carried some kind of graffiti or assembly workers' signatures somewhere in the interior of the assembly, which you could call a form of art, but those aren't designed features.

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    $\begingroup$ I always wondered about the fins. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2018 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble The function of the fins was apparently to keep pitch/yaw within the operational limits of the escape system even if there was a worst-case failure of the engines (severe thrust asymmetry, engine "hard-over", etc.). $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Feb 13, 2018 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ The black-and-white paint was claimed to be a bit of an affectation inspired by the "checkerboard" patterns on WWII V2s, but this article explains their value: popsci.com/why-was-saturn-v-black-and-white $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Feb 13, 2018 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AnthonyX and served the same purpose on prototype/test articles of the A4/V2 series. Production V2s were painted in a variety of camouflage schemes to make detection during transport and storage more difficult. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Feb 14, 2018 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Great find. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 18:25

The Apollo program had some difficulty keeping the weight of the stack within limits. That makes it unlikely significant weight was spent on aesthetics.

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    $\begingroup$ When you're counting grams up top to get the mission parameters right, you have to be counting tens of kilograms down at the bottom to also keep things straight - and that certainly covers any paint visible on the outside of the vehicle, or most decorative details you could add to something that large. $\endgroup$
    – Saiboogu
    Feb 13, 2018 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Uwe, you know why the Space Shuttle's external tank was red? Because not painting it let them reduce the weight at liftoff by 0.013%. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Feb 13, 2018 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark I'm not sure whether it's accurate, but I recall reading somewhere that the Space Shuttle external fuel tanks initially were white, but a kid asked a NASA public relations person how much the paint weighed, or some similar question, and the PR person had to ask an engineer, and after the idea bounced around a bit they decided to leave the paint off subsequent missions. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Feb 14, 2018 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve, the first two launches had the tanks painted white to protect the insulation from UV damage while the Shuttle was sitting on the launch pad. Turns out UV damage wasn't a problem, so the paint was omitted from future tanks. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Feb 14, 2018 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ Apollo 8 wasn't the worst-case scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Feb 14, 2018 at 11:25

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