Historic Apollo Engines Successfully Recovered from Atlantic Ocean

The thrust chamber of one of the Apollo F-1 engines as found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: Bezos Expeditions

Thrust chamber of one of the Apollo F-1 engines as found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Photo Credit: Bezos Expeditions

For fans of the Apollo missions to the Moon, and spaceflight history in general, there is some exciting news: some of the first-stage F-1 engines, which helped to launch the huge Saturn V rockets into space, have finally been recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was announced yesterday. The retrieval operation was conducted by billionaire Jeff Bezos, who is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the aerospace company Blue Origin and Amazon.com.

For over 40 years, the engines had been considered lost somewhere in the vast and deep Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again. But now, thanks to Bezos, they have been found—an exciting discovery as they are an important aspect of the historical manned missions to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The following statement was issued by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden yesterday:

“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.”

Thrust chamber of one of the recovered Apollo F-1 engines. Photo Credit: Bezos Expeditions

Thrust chamber of one of the recovered Apollo F-1 engines. Photo Credit: Bezos Expeditions

The engines had first been discovered by Bezos’ team in 2012 using deep-sea sonar. “They hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they are made of tough stuff, so we’ll see,” said Bezos at the time. He continued, “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.”

So what happens to the engines now? Bezos plans to restore them as much as possible, given that they’ve been badly corroded by the decades-long exposure to salt water. NASA, which still owns them, has said that at least one will probably be given to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A fitting honor for such a valuable piece of space history. Another may go the The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

As Bolden added, “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.”

More information and updates about the F-1 engine recovery by Bezos Expeditions are available here. There is also an excellent slide show with additional images from the expedition here.

19 comments to Historic Apollo Engines Successfully Recovered from Atlantic Ocean

  • Karol

    The F-1 engines certainly are valuable pieces of space exploration history, but after a high speed impact with the Atlantic and spending 40 years in highly corrosive sea water, some serious restoration work is obviously in order. Since Amazon billionaire Bezos seem interested in space exploration, and he has some experience with ocean exploration, perhaps he would be interested in the now cancelled TiME mission to land a spacecraft on the liquid hydrocarbon ocean of Titan? Considering how generous NASA has been to PayPal billionaire Musk, maybe he could throw in a free launch vehicle?

    • Ferris Valyn

      Karol – Surely you are aware that Bezos is funding/head of Blue Origin, which is part of that hated group of NewSpace companies

      • Karol

        Ferris, so good to hear from you. I thought that after Jason finished spanking your widdle bottom for you during the newspace troll posts, you’d be off pouting.
        With warmest regards, Karol

        • Karol,
          I didn’t “spank” anything. Ferris & I might not have agreed – but we did have a solid discussion. I only wish that others would follow Ferris’ example. While we appreciate your enthusiasm – we don’t want to encourage it – regardless of which “side” it comes from.
          Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • Ferris,
        I’m sure you aren’t going to suggest again that it is the companies that are hated. Especially considering how we repeatedly spoke to the contrary. If we’re required to parse words & to do the other things you’ve suggested? You need to acknowledge what we’ve actually been saying.
        Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

        • Ferris Valyn

          I am making no broad claims and generalizations about large numbers of people or companies.

          I just feel that Karol’s attitude frequently leaves a lot to be desired (please see bringing Elon into this story, which has nothing to do with Elon or SpaceX). And that snarkiness is really the only appropriate response here.

  • Hats off to Jeff Bezos and his crew for such an endeavor. It is only fitting that both engines be restored and on display at the National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The F-1 engines serve as a testament to American ingenuity in our effort to send human beings to another world. The artifacts should be seen and appreciated by all, especially by those who lived through the fantastic exploits of the Apollo astronauts. Bravo!

  • Karol

    If we want widespread support, financial and otherwise, for NASA, perhaps we should make a concerted effort to bring the excitement of space exploration to the entire nation, not just select locations. The Daily Launch of the AIAA reported today that a group of five women in Fargo, North Dakota were lauded for bringing space exploration presentations to their community as JPL Solar System Ambassadors. People outside of “The Space States” Florida, Texas, California are also very interested in NASA and space exploration, but if you live in a “rust belt” or “flyover” city, it’s just “send in your tax dollars and go build cars or harvest corn”. NASA – We Love You!! Why don’t you visit us? You never call or write unless you need money, don’t you love us? MANY people out here in the forgotten hinterland are excited about NASA and space exploration, and a traveling exhibit would be fantastic. F-1 rocket engines, a taxidermied space monkey, ANYTHING!

  • Tracy

    Curious….does everyone not realize the purpose of this salvage operation? Bezos spent a fraction of what would have been R&D costs and brought up the F1s to reverse engineer the designs….Shortly after the Apollo missions ended, the FBI assumed control of all designs and had them destroyed as they were state secrets…

  • Roy

    Tracy

    The designs and blueprints for all the Saturn Vs are archived. They were not destroyed!! Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama are currently in the process of reverse engineering pristine engines from the Smithsonian and MSFC and have recently fired a rebuilt gas generator. See http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/146829-nasa-resurrects-its-most-powerful-rocket-engine-after-40-years-for-science

  • Tracy

    Roy,
    Thanks for the link, that was some awesome footage. So why do you think Jeff Bezos brought up those engines?

    • Karol

      Probably for the same reason that someone might want the “Our American Cousin” program held by Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theatre, the sword carried by George Washington, the battlefield maps of Napolean, one of Michalangelo’s models, and wine goblet that Caesar drank from, or one of Alexanders’s shields. Why is there such fascination for relics from Titanic. Liberty Bell 7 was recently recovered from a watery grave. It is old, corroded technology from the early 60’s, why bother? A link to an exciting time gone by? Perhaps.

      • Tracy

        Karol,
        NASA made it perfectly clear that the F1 engines were the property of the US government and could NOT be kept by a private citizen and that he would have to return them to the NASA upon bringing them to the surface….So I concluded that Bezos would agree to do that only after he has examined thourghly and contrayer to what Roy said above I do not think ALL designs for the F1 are available for public review…because then China would not bother filling NASA with spies they would simply go to the Archives….

  • Tracy

    Leonidas,
    I would not worry about sequestration and funding cuts…This is all political posturing by the corrupt and incompentant administration that is completely out of touch with the public and will ensure the their own downfall…on the other hand they do realize that the cost of government is out of control and this is just the beginning of government cut backs….