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Apollo rockets are lifted from the seabed

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
Mar 23, 2013, 0:00 UTC

Sen—Powerful rocket engines that launched Apollo astronauts to the Moon have been recovered from the bottom of the sea more than 40 years later.

Two of the first-stage engines from NASA’s Saturn V rockets were retrieved from the Atlantic after an expedition mounted by space enthusiast Jeff Bezos, founder of online store Amazon and head of aerospace company Blue Origin.

Each of the Apollo missions that sent three astronauts into space was lifted from the launchpad by five of the F-1 engines. They remain the most powerful single-nozzle, liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed.

Each one had more thrust than three space shuttle main engines combined and they were able to lift the Saturn V to a height of around 36 miles and to a speed of nearly 10,000 kilometres per hour.

It was nearly a year ago that Bezos reported that his company Bezos Expeditions had found some of the Apollo engines on the seabed. He said he was only five when Apollo 11 flew the first men to land on the Moon and it contributed to his passions for science, engineering, and exploration.

In his latest report on the expedition website, Bezos says: “What an incredible adventure. We are right now onboard the Seabed Worker headed back to Cape Canaveral after finishing three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface.

“We found so much. 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.

“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.”

One of the Apollo F-1 engines lying on the seabed.One of the Apollo F-1 engines lying on the seabed. Credit: Bezos Expeditions

Bezos said that many of the original serial numbers were missing or damaged so that it would be difficult to know which engines came from which Apollo missions.

But he hoped that the expedition team had retrieved enough major components to be able to put together and restore displays of two flown F-1 engines for aerospace museums where they might inspire others.

The Apollo hardware is still NASA's property. Before lifting the engines, Bezos had asked if NASA would consider making one available to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

The F-1 engine began as a US Air Force programme and was developed by aerospace company Rocketdyne in 1955. Each cluster of five burned a mix of liquid oxygen and kerosene at a rate of more than 15 metric tons a second for 2.5 minutes.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulated Bezos and his team on the recovery. He said: “Nearly one year ago, Jeff Bezos shared with us his plans to recover F-1 engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 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.

“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.”

Apollo engines on deckAn F-1 engine is examined on the deck of the ship. Credit: Bezos Expeditions