In the mix of the Space Race of the 1960s, NASA was in the middle of the world's most ambitious space program ever, that of landing a man on the Moon.
But, if you have ever seen the path they took to the Moon, you might wonder why it was so much further than a direct shot.
Well, as it turns out, there are a lot more factors involved than just a short trip to the Moon and back. NASA had a few prototype rockets in mind, each of which went through sufficient testing. One that nearly got assigned to the Apollo missions was the massive NOVA rocket, which towered the Saturn V. It had the capacity and power to fly directly out of Earth's gravitational field whereas the Saturn V didn't.
So what was the issue then? Well, carrying that much fuel made the NOVA incredibly heavy, and the thrust required would only get the rocket out of Earth's gravity, not the Moon's – that would have to still be the Eagle lunar module. That much effort required for the NOVA would cost NASA a substantially higher amount than what the Saturn V would.
The Saturn V was a more complex rocket, designed to enter lower Earth orbit in stages. At each stage, a section of the rocket would disconnect, making it lighter and lighter, until it was light enough to exit the Earth's gravitational field at minimal thrust. In doing so, the Satun V would have to make a few orbits around the Earth until it was slung towards the Moon.
Take a look at the video below by the YouTube channel, Astrum, on Why NASA Didn't Go Directly To The Moon - Apollo Episode 1...