Piece of space history recovered from ocean floor

The project brought back enough components to fashion displays of two full F-1 engines. Photo by Bezos Expeditions
The project brought back enough components to fashion displays of two full F-1 engines. Photo by Bezos Expeditions

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed the first men on the moon, one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. While most people associate the Apollo 11 mission with the module that landed on the moon, another piece of technology was integral. Until recently it lay on the Atlantic ocean floor.

This piece of technology is the F-1 Rocket engine. Capable of one and a half million pounds of thrust, an F-1 engine burns 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. The use of five of these rockets allowed Apollo 11 to be launched into space.

The “F-1 Recovery Project,” heavily supported by by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, aimed to recover the engines that launched the Apollo missions into space. On March 20, the several-year dream became a reality.

“We’re bringing home enough major components to fashion displays of two flown F-1 engines,” said Bezos.

Recovery of the engine pieces was done using a number of remotely operated vehicles at times more than 14,000 feet below the surface. The vehicles were attached to the ship by fiber optic cables that transmitted data and power, power transmitted at more than 4,000 volts.

In a blog post made as the recovery project finished its ocean exploration, Bezos said, “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.”

Bezos is not the only one to be thinking about the F-1 engines in relation to historic space travel. The project’s timing is important because NASA recently began to look back at the F-1 rocket. NASA hopes to “use it [the F-1 engine] as inspiration for creating new advanced, affordable propulsion systems.” This initiative climaxed with the firing of a refurbished F-1 engine, that had been kept in storage.

NASA’s response to Bezos’ project seems to be overall a positive one. In a statement from Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA said, “Jeff and his colleagues at Blue Origin are helping to usher in a new commercial era of space exploration and we are confident that our continued collaboration will soon result in private human access to space, creating jobs and driving America’s leadership in innovation and exploration.”

The 40-year-old F-1 engine parts have been sent to The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. More than 25,000 pounds of parts arrived on March 25, 2013. The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center will take care of the engine’s restoration.

Whether after restoration the rockets turn out to be from Apollo 11 or a different Apollo mission, their recovery is a major step in promoting public awareness. Bezos expressed his excitement about where the project will go next. “We’re excited to get this hardware on display where just maybe it will inspire something amazing.”

If things go according to Bezos’ plan, one of the recovered F-1 rockets will be put on display in The Museum of Flight in Seattle, and the other will be sent to the Smithsonian for public display.