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Amazon's Jeff Bezos hails recovery of some Apollo F-1 engines

March 20, 2013|By Andrea Chang
  • An F-1 thrust chamber that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean.
An F-1 thrust chamber that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean. (Bezos Expeditions )

Jeff Bezos: founder and CEO of Amazon.com, and now, bona fide ocean explorer.

A year after vowing to send a team into the ocean to find F-1 engines from the historic Apollo 11 moon launch, Bezos announced Wednesday that the team had recovered F-1 engine parts. Because many original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, it was unclear if they actually came from the Apollo 11 mission.

Calling it an “incredible adventure,” the billionaire said the team had just finished three weeks at sea, working nearly three miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

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“We’ve seen an underwater wonderland — an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program,” Bezos said in a post on his Bezos Expeditions blog.

“We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. 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 said remotely operated vehicles worked at a depth of more than 14,000 feet, tethered to a ship with fiber optics for data and electric cables transmitting power at more than 4,000 volts.

The team, he said, is bringing back enough major components to fashion displays of two flown F-1 engines, which were developed by Rocketdyne engineers in Canoga Park. Upcoming restoration will stabilize the hardware and prevent further corrosion.

Of the pieces that were recovered, Bezos noted that precise mission identification would be difficult.

“We want this hardware to tell its true story, including its 5,000-mile-per-hour re-entry and subsequent impact with the ocean surface,” Bezos said. “We're excited to get this hardware on display where just maybe it will inspire something amazing.”

"We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous," he said. 

Quick history lesson: On July 16, 1969, five F-1 engines fired, burned for a few minutes and plunged back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean as planned. A few days later, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.

Since then, the exact whereabouts of the F-1 engines were unknown. For most people, this would remain an unsolved mystery. For Bezos, who was 5 years old during the historic Apollo 11 mission, it became a lingering question that he thought he could solve.

After Bezos' blog was posted, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden released a statement congratulating Bezos and the team on the successful recovery. 

"We share the excitement expressed by Jeff and his team in announcing the recovery of two of the powerful Saturn V first-stage engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean," Bolden said. "This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit.  

"We look forward to the restoration of these engines by the Bezos team and applaud Jeff's desire to make these historic artifacts available for public display."

Bolden noted that Bezos and his colleagues were helping to usher in a new commercial era of space exploration. "We are confident our continued collaboration will soon result in private human access to space," he said.

This is just the latest unusual endeavor from Bezos, who has an eclectic range of interests besides running the world’s largest online retailer. Among them: The 10,000 Year Clock, which he describes as a “special clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking” that is to be built inside a mountain in West Texas.

“The vision was, and still is, to build a clock that will keep time for the next 10,000 years,” Bezos said, noting that the clock will tick once a year, where the century hand advances once every 100 years “and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium.” 

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