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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Says He Has Located Apollo 11 Rocket Engines Lost at Sea

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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F-1 engines (red cones) on the Apollo 8 first stage. Credit: NASA

Jeff Bezos, CEO and one of the richest people in the world, has an abiding interest in the future of space exploration. His start-up Blue Origin is building suborbital launch vehicles and has received millions in NASA funding to develop next-generation spaceflight technologies. But Bezos also has a passion for spaceflight history, it seems. His privately funded team of deep-sea explorers has located the first-stage engines that in 1969 lofted Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins toward the moon aboard Apollo 11, according to a post on Bezos’s personal Web site.

Five Rocketdyne F-1 engines lifted the Saturn V rockets carrying the Apollo astronauts off the ground on July 16 that year, delivering almost 7.7 million pounds of thrust, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. After 2.5 minutes, at an altitude of 38 miles, the second stage took over and the spent first stage fell back toward the Atlantic Ocean. For more than four decades the Apollo 11 F-1 engines have rested on the seafloor, their exact location unknown. But they may soon return to dry land if Bezos has his way:

Separation of the Apollo 11 first stage. Credit: NASA

I’m excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor. We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in—they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see.

The post does not offer details on how Bezos’s team identified the engines as belonging to Apollo 11.

Bezos notes that the engines remain NASA property but will hopefully be available for public viewing. “If we are able to recover one of these F-1 engines that started mankind on its first journey to another heavenly body, I imagine that NASA would decide to make it available to the Smithsonian for all to see,” he wrote. “If we’re able to raise more than one engine, I’ve asked NASA if they would consider making it available to the excellent Museum of Flight here in Seattle.”

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Jazzism 6:40 pm 03/28/2012

    Technically it was the V2′s that first got mankind pointed to the stars. The F-1′s were just a spin off from them.

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  2. 2. quincykim 8:18 pm 03/28/2012

    “… started mankind on its first journey to another heavenly body…”

    That’s what Apollo 11 did. All prior launches, including those of V2s, were extremely import predecessors, but they weren’t on board this flight–F-1s were.

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  3. 3. PhillyJimi 12:16 am 03/29/2012

    Apollo 8 was technically man’s first trip to another world. Of course the Apollo 11 mission is the one everyone remembers but Apollo 8 was really the first trip into the unknown.

    It would be very interesting to see how well they survived the impact with the surface of the ocean. This is very cool.

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  4. 4. Foggen 10:44 am 03/29/2012

    Actually, I think the rules regarding maritime salvage are such that Bezos can probably do what he likes with the rockets.

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  5. 5. Quinn the Eskimo 8:30 pm 04/1/2012

    I wonder, does Bezos get free shipping?

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