March 30, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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How loud is the missile launch?

He watches Footage of the Saturn V launch during NASA’s Apollo program It’s the ’60s and ’70s, and one thing that might blow you away—even more than heavy polyester fashions and vintage hairstyles—is how Away, the crowds of spectators from the main event.

There were several good reasons for this, and noise was one of them: loud sounds can kill, and few things built by humans have been as loud as Saturn V.

When the Apollo astronauts launched their missions to the Moon, they did so with more than 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) separating them from the seemingly enthusiastic crowd. Even at such distances, the noise was incredible. A common myth at the time was that the sound waves from the Saturn V engines were so powerful that they melted concrete on the launch pad and set fire to grass a mile (1.6 km) away (both were false).

NASA measurements at the time recorded the launch noise at 204 decibels. Compare that to the sound of a jet plane taking off, which is between 120 and 160 decibels Danger to hearing if it lasts more than 30 seconds. Even at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away, the Saturn 5’s firing noise has been recorded as 120 decibels — about as loud as a rock concert, or a car horn in very close quarters.

“I’ve always been physically amazed at the launch,” says Anthony Rowe, a Florida coffee shop owner who has been watching and photographing launches since the days of the Saturn V. In the 1970s, an acoustic device called the Sensurround was used in disaster films like Earthquake to create a subsonic seismic “experience” in a theater.

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“The launches, up close, are a bit like Sensurround,” says Rowe. “You can feel a slight shiver, then the rumble of a building in your chest before you hear any actual sound. The subsonic bass frequencies make your ears scream. After a few seconds, the sound gathers into a roar, like a huge welding torch.”

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Last year, a team of scientists from Brigham Young University in Utah calculated just that How loud was the Saturn V?. They came to a result remarkably similar to the NASA recordings – 203 decibels.

The difference between 160 and 200dB may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but it is.

“One hundred and seventy decibels would be the equivalent of 10 aircraft engines. Two hundred decibels would be 10,000 engines,” said Kent Gee, lead author of the study and professor of physics at Brigham Young University at the time. “Every 10 decibels is an increase in magnitude.”