The F-1 engines which launched Apollo 11 towards the Moon on the most powerful vehicle ever created have not been seen since the historic mission thundered off the Earth on July 16, 1969. The five engines were jettisoned at nearly 40 miles high once the fuel was spent and fell into the Atlantic ocean, as planned, a couple minutes after liftoff. Several days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility – becoming the first human beings to set foot on another world.
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced March 28th that he and his team of ‘undersea pros’ have located the mammoth engines over 2 miles below the ocean, and the internet billionaire plans on raising at least one of them to the surface for public display.
“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,” said Bezos on his website. “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 19-foot tall engines, which are still the most powerful single-chamber liquid fuel rocket engines ever designed, produced 1.5 million pounds of thrust – equivalent to 32 million horsepower, each. A single engine produced more thrust than three space shuttle main engines combined. Five of the engines fired simultaneously for over two minutes to lift the 6 million pound Saturn-V rocket off the launch pad and into space, burning 6,000 pounds (over 650 gallons) of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second.
“Though they’ve been on the ocean floor for a long time, the engines remain the property of NASA. If we are able to recover one of these F-1 engines that started mankind on its journey to another heavenly body, I imagine that NASA would decide to make it available to the Smithsonian for all to see,” said Bezos. “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.”
NASA footage from the launch of Apollo 11. Video Credit: NASA / nexus6j
The expedition to find the engines which sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon was privately funded by Bezos, and he announced that plans to raise the engines from the sea floor would be privately funded as well. Assuming the mammoth engines are still somewhat intact, raising them over 2 miles to the surface would be a huge undertaking, and Bezos has not released any details regarding plans to accomplish his goal, only saying “we’ll keep you posted.”
Bezos is the most recent in a long line of wealthy adventurers setting out to make history. Earlier this week James Cameron, who directed blockbuster hollywood movies Titanic and Avatar, successfully reached the deepest point on the Earth in an expedition to the Mariana Trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Richard Branson, who formed Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Records, hopes to have his company Virgin Galactic become the world’s first space tourism business. And Elon Musk, who founded PayPal, hopes to see his company SpaceX begin commercial space flight operations for NASA to and from the International Space Station within the next year – the first commercial space flight operations in history.
“Millions of people were inspired by the Apollo Program. I was five years old when I watched Apollo 11 unfold on television, and without any doubt it was a big contributor to my passions for science, engineering, and exploration,” said Bezos. “NASA is one of the few institutions I know that can inspire five-year-olds. It sure inspired me, and with this endeavor, maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore”.