A piece of an Apollo 11 F-1 engine found on the Atlantic Ocean floor by Bezos Expeditions. Photo courtesy Bezos Expeditions
On July 16, 1969, the world watched as the historic Apollo 11 mission took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which of course ended with Neil Armstrong – and greater mankind – walking on the moon.
What the world didn’t watch – or at least realize – was that the five F-1 engines used to launch the Saturn V spacecraft into orbit would make a violent descent back to earth, disappearing into the vast Atlantic Ocean as NASA had planned, never to be seen again… or so they thought.
On March 28, 2012, billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, made the announcement that his team at Bezos Expeditions had located the Apollo 11 F-1 engines lying some 14,000 feet below the surface and were making plans to raise them.
One year later, Bezos says they have done just that.
“What an incredible adventure,” Bezos wrote today from onboard the Seabed Worker, an 88m multi-purpose support vessel owned by Swire Seabed. “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.”
Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous.
The technology used for the recovery is in its own way as otherworldly as the Apollo technology itself. The Remotely Operated Vehicles worked at a depth of more than 14,000 feet, tethered to our ship with fiber optics for data and electric cables transmitting power at more than 4,000 volts. We on the team were often struck by poetic echoes of the lunar missions. The buoyancy of the ROVs looks every bit like microgravity. The blackness of the horizon. The gray and colorless ocean floor. Only the occasional deep sea fish broke the illusion.
We’re bringing home enough major components to fashion displays of two flown F-1 engines. The upcoming restoration will stabilize the hardware and prevent further corrosion. We want the hardware to tell its true story, including its 5,000 mile per hour re-entry and subsequent impact with the ocean surface. We’re excited to get this hardware on display where just maybe it will inspire something amazing.
Since the engines remain the property of NASA, Bezos only asks that NASA make them available to the Smithsonian Museum, and perhaps one to “the excellent Museum of Flight here in Seattle,” for all to see.
Fittingly, Jeff concluded today’s announcement with a thank you to NASA:
Finally, I want to thank NASA. They extended every courtesy and every helping hand – all of NASA’s interactions were characterized by plain old common sense, something which we all know is impressive and uncommon. We’re excited to be bringing a couple of your F-1s home.
We should add that no public funds were used in the expedition to locate and raise the engines. It was funded privately.
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