Every rocket has a payload; even the small, solid fuel rocket that I built and fired while attending Space Camp as a child. My rocket launched an earthworm as its payload, carrying it about 1,000 feet above the ground. A parachute opened and brought my payload it back to the ground, alive and unscathed. Obviously, larger rockets tend to carry larger payloads. The Saturn V Moon rocket was the largest launch vehicle ever successfully flown. The whole point of the Saturn V was to lift this, the Lunar Stack, off of Earth, insert it into a brief period of Earth orbit, then push it toward the Moon.
The Lunar Stack consisted of several systems. The very tip of the rocket is a component called the Launch Escape System. This was a tower fixed to the nose of the manned capsule during launch, which contained a solid rocket motor that would be fired if the rocket started to break up, pulling the crew to safety. Luckily, this never had to happen in the Apollo program. If everything was performing nominally, the Launch Escape System would be jettisoned away from the capsule after ignition of the S-II second stage.
The next major system down the line is the Command-Service Module (CSM). This two-part component consists of the Command Module (CM) and the Service Module (SM). The CM carried all three astronauts during the whole flight, from launch, all the way to splash-down, excluding the time when two of the three astronauts would transfer to the Lunar Module (LM) for their excursion to the moon. The particular Command-Service Module pictured here is called CSM-115, which was manufactured for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission. It is only partially completed. Normally, the unflown Command Modules are a shiny silver color, but this module sat outside for decades, and has taken the appearance of one that has suffered an entry into the atmosphere.
The conical structure aft of the CSM is the Spacecraft-Lunar Adapter, which housed and protected the Lunar Module (LM), and the CSM engine during launch. Once the Lunar Stack was on a path to the moon, the CSM would detach from the SLA cone, which would open up like flower petals, exposing the LM. The CSM would turn 180°, dock with the LM, and pull it away from the S-IVB third stage. Then, the CSM and LM would continue their path to the Moon, separate from the S-IVB third stage.
Each small component of the Apollo System, from the launch, to the Escape Tower, and everything in between, is incredible to me. I could go into endless detail about each small component within these systems, but that will have to wait for future articles.