On March 20 Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, announced that he and his privately funded Bezos Expeditions team had successfully retrieved engines that had once launched Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Using remotely operated vehicles to fashion slings around the fragmented F-1 engine components (thrust chamber pictured), crew members recovered enough parts to reconstruct the majority of two engines.
The fragments were recovered from the seafloor at depths of almost three miles (4.8 kilometers). In a statement Bezos thanked NASA, saying, "We're excited to be bringing a couple of your F-1s home."
F-1 engines were the most powerful component of the Saturn V rocket—a Heavy Lift Vehicle specifically developed during the 1960s to carry the weighty payloads of lunar missions. Saturn V was the rocket of choice for the historic Apollo missions and today remains the most powerful rocket to fly successfully. It was last used in 1973 to launch the Skylab space station into Earth orbit.
On each Saturn V rocket, five F-1 engines were designed to burn until their fuel ran out, then to separate from the rocket and fall into the ocean. "We want the hardware to tell its true story," Bezos writes, "including its 5,000-miles-per-hour (8,000 kilometers-per-hour) reentry and subsequent impact with the ocean surface."
In 2012 when the engines were first located with deep-sea sonar off the coast of Cape Canaveral in Florida, Bezos claimed they belonged to the historic Apollo 11 spaceflight. But further study and restoration is needed to confirm the identify of the engines.
Ten Apollo missions—all launched from Kennedy Space Center between 1968 and 1972—used the Saturn V rocket, each with five F-1 engines that plummeted, as planned, into the sea. It is hoped that serial numbers will be able to connect the recovered engines to a specific Apollo mission.
But regardless of which Apollo the engines once launched into space, Bezos hopes they will inspire others: "I was five years old when I watched Apollo 11 unfold on television, and without any doubt it was a big contributor to my passions for science, engineering, and exploration ... NASA is one of the few institutions I know that can inspire five-year-olds ... and with this endeavor, maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore."
The engines remain the property of NASA, and once restored by the Bezos team, they will be returned to NASA for display to the public, possibly in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
The museum houses a number of objects from the Apollo missions, including the Apollo 11 command module Columbia and the space suits worn by Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong.
Bezos has asked that NASA send the second recovered F-1 engine to the Museum of Flight in his hometown, Seattle.
Of his "incredible adventure" Bezos writes, "Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible."