Surprisingly the Saturn V isn't the biggest rocket that was designed.
That title belongs to the Sea Dragon:
In my browsing of YouTube and watching video game rockets explode a fellow by the name of Scott Manley briefly mentioned a real rocket design that had the sort of thrust the overly complicated design he had pulled to get her had. So I did a little poking around and this thing is freaking awesome.
Video of a lecture that sheds more light on the matter:
The engine bell could hold the entire first stage of the Saturn V. It could put a million pounds into orbit. This thing would have been made out of six inch steel plate and stand 500 feet tall and the tarring (thing that dictates how wide cargo can be) diameter was 25 yards. Currently the biggest tarring we have is maybe 25 feet.
As the guy in the video points out you could shave a billion or possibly more off the James Web telescope by axing all the intricate unfolding mechanisms for it to deploy and build it out of welded steel. Sure the weight would go up, but this thing could launch a million pounds so who cares? Build it out of welded freaking steel, it'll survive just fine and still save you a billion or more.
Current cost per pound is $10 000
This thing's cost per pound? In 1960s dollars it was $600
Using the inflation calculator found here:
The sea dragon's cost per pound is roughly $4 000
Only a little under half current costs and this guy is talking about sending steel up? Costs far less even if it's going to be heavier because the above mentioned ability to launch it in it's orbital configuration instead of having to have it do this open like a flower business. Then there's the fact since we can afford, weight wise, to use steel rather than having to use billet aluminum we save on manufacturing. On top of all that because we can afford to go Big we don't have to miniaturize all the electronics, which saves cost and makes them more durable to the whole 'in space full of radiation and wild temperature swings' thing.
Best part? This thing's basically a submarine hull that uses kerosene, liquid oxygen, and is, at least mostly, reusable. Stage drops away. Parachutes deploy. Thing's got six inches of steel for it's walls instead of thin aluminum. Are there problems associated with the design? Undoubtedly.
However let's be honest here. We need to Go Big. Space is a good project to inspire a generation. Fifties? Sixties? That's the era ARPAnet, the predecessor to the internet, was designed in. We went to the deepest part of the ocean in that era. Kids grew up wanting to do Science. It was when America was the undisputed greatest nation on earth.
Sure Civil Rights issues were s big gargantuan problem and we're still struggling there far more than I'd like, but we need to inspire people to try doing better. Right now the young people of this country are distrustful, resentful, and see everywhere how the world is falling apart. Pack it up sonny. The world is shit. Get used to getting stepped on.
Things like this though? Forget having to send up twenty different shuttle missions to build the international space stations. This thing could put up the massive rotating space station from 2001 Space Odyssey in three. It could not only send us to the moon but it could send an entire moonbase up in one. Forget something the size of a few phone booths for crew to survive in. Send up something the size of a house.
Gets even better. Currently Space X is working on the crew configuration for their dragon capsule. It's supposed to be able to hold six people. So even if the Sea Dragon would have to be a strictly unmanned craft due to launch forces (oh did I forget to mention it would be launched from underwater? Ya no more expensive launch facilities) you can send over twice the people Apollo could carry up to meet with whatever this thing flings into orbit and them get your science on.
This is how we design things in America folks. We just gotta convince the government to get their heads out of the sand and give them the resources to do it.