Apollo 11's Engines Discovered in the Atlantic

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Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and founder of the private spaceflight company Blue Origin, has announced that he's located the F-1 engines that launched Apollo 11 to the moon.

In the privately funded venture, Bezos' team used state-of-the-art deep-sea sonar to hunt for the space artifacts, which have sat 14,000 feet (4.2 kilometers) under the Atlantic Ocean for more than 40 years.

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The five powerful engines of the most famous Saturn V rocket burned for only a few minutes on July 16, 1969, sending Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to an altitude of 38 miles before the first stage of the rocket separated and the second-stage engines took over (pictured top). The first stage, plus empty fuel tanks and engines, fell back to Earth for a splashdown in the ocean.

Once used, they were expendable, forgotten in their underwater junkyard. In the early days of space exploration, sustainability wasn't high on the list of priorities, so dumping spent rocket engines into the sea was the norm.

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In his blog, Bezos discussed how the Apollo missions inspired him, saying that the Apollo 11 mission launched when he was 5 years old, contributing to his passion for science, engineering and exploration.

"A year or so ago, I started to wonder, with the right team of undersea pros, could we find and potentially recover the F-1 engines that started mankind's mission to the moon?" he asked.

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It looks like his marine adventure has paid off, and Bezos now wants to mount a deep-sea mission to retrieve one or more of the F-1 engines. "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," he added. "On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."

It's easy to see Bezos' enthusiasm for retrieving these space history artifacts — it was, after all, these incredible feats of engineering that lifted three men and all the equipment they needed to live in space, land on the moon and return safely.

The F-1 is a "modern wonder," according to Bezos, delivering "one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second."

Bezos hopes that he'll be able to dredge up more than one of the F-1s so one can be displayed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Apollo 11 command module is also housed there. As the engines are NASA property, he hopes that if more engines can be pulled up, he can get permission to display one in the Museum of Flight in his hometown of Seattle.

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"NASA is one of the few institutions I know that can inspire five-year-olds," he concluded. "It sure inspired me, and with this endeavor, maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore."

Source: Bezos Expeditions via BBC News

Image: A photograph taken from a US Air Force aircraft as the expended first (S-1C) stage falls away from the mated Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second (S-II) and third (S-IVB) stages. Credit/source: NASA

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