Apollo 11 F-1 Engine Finding Confirmed by Jeff Bezos on Eve of 1st Human Moonwalk

In a fitting testament to NASA’s momentous Apollo Moon Landing Program, NASA and billionaire Jeff Bezos confirmed today (July 19) the discovery of a powerful F-1 first stage engine component from the Saturn V moon rocket that launched three American astronauts on the historic journey of Apollo 11 to land the first two humans on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

“On the eve of the 44th moonwalk anniversary, the Bezos Expedition confirms an Apollo 11 Saturn V F1 engine find,” NASA officially announced on its websites just moments ago today, July 19.

Apollo 11 commander and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong, was immortalized forever when he first set foot on the moon 44 years ago tomorrow (July 20, 1969), followed minutes later by the lunar module pilot, NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The Saturn V rockets first stage was powered by a cluster of five F-1 engines – a technological marvel and the most powerful single-nozzle, liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed.

“44 years ago tomorrow Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it all possible,” says Bezos on his Expedition website today.

Apollo 11 Saturn V F-1 Engine Thrust Chamber recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean- stenciled with Rocketdyne serial number “2044”. Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions
Apollo 11 Saturn V F-1 Engine Thrust Chamber recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean- stenciled with Rocketdyne serial number “2044”. Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions

Bezos, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the aerospace company Blue Origin and Amazon.com, originally announced the discovery and recovery of significant components of two flown F-1 engines amongst a field of twisted wreckage from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in March of this year, aboard the Seabed Worker at Port Canaveral, Florida, along with a treasure trove of other major Saturn V components hauled up from a depth of almost 3 miles.

“We brought back thrust chambers, gas generators, injectors, heat exchangers, turbines, fuel manifolds and dozens of other artifacts – all simply gorgeous and a striking testament to the Apollo program,” wrote Bezos in a update this morning, July 19.

But until today, the engines exact identification remained elusive because of decades of severe seabed corrosion and their fiery, destructive end upon plunging and smashing unimpeded onto the ocean’s surface.

Saturn V F-1 Engine Nozzle recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions
Saturn V F-1 Engine nozzle recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions

Conservators from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas worked painstakingly since March to identify the F-1 engine parts.

“Today, I’m thrilled to share some exciting news. One of the conservators who was scanning the objects with a black light and a special lens filter has made a breakthrough discovery – “2044” – stenciled in black paint on the side of one of the massive thrust chambers, says Bezos.

“2044 is the Rocketdyne serial number that correlates to NASA number 6044, which is the serial number for F-1 Engine #5 from Apollo 11. The intrepid conservator kept digging for more evidence, and after removing more corrosion at the base of the same thrust chamber, he found it – “Unit No 2044” – stamped into the metal surface.”

Blacklight ocean view of Saturn V F-1 Engine recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.   Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions
Blacklight view of Apollo 11 Saturn V F-1 Engine recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean with identifying “2044” serial number. Credit: Jeff Bezos Expeditions

Apollo 11 launched to the Moon on July 16, 1969 from Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Sea of Tranquility inside the Lunar Module. They took a single lunar excursion and spent 2 hours and 11 minutes as the first two men to walk on the moon. They stayed on the moon for a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes before blasting off for the journey back home to Earth.

Armstrong suddenly passed away nearly a year ago on August 25, 2012 at age 82 – read my stories, here and here.

Aldrin is still active and strenuously advocating for starting human expeditions to the Red Planet.

He outlined his exploration concepts in a newly published book titled – “Mission to Mars.”

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The five F-1 engines used in the 138-foot-tall Saturn V first stage known as the S-IC generated 7.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, or some 1.5 million pounds each. They stand 19 feet tall by 12 feet wide. Each one weighs over 18,000 pounds and was manufactured by Rocketdyne.

The F-1 had more power than all three space shuttle main engines combined. They burned a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel for two-and-one-half-minutes, carrying the Saturn V to an altitude of some 36 miles.

Altogether, six Apollo Moon landing flights boosted by Saturn V’s sent a total of 12 humans on moon walking expeditions to Earth’s nearest neighbor during the 1960s and 1970s.

“This is a big milestone for the project and the whole team couldn’t be more excited to share it with you all,” Bezos wrote.

Bezos’ Blue Origin firm is also working to develop a commercial rocket and ‘space taxi’ to finally resume launching American astronauts back to low Earth orbit from American soil after a multi year gap.

More than four decades have passed since the last humans traversed the lunar surface in December 1972 during NASA’s Apollo 17 moon landing mission.

After all that time, the F-1 may yet live again.

NASA is now working on an upgraded F-1 to power a future variant of the new SLS heavy lift booster under development and intended to launch humans aboard the new Orion crew capsule back to the Moon and to deep space destinations including Asteroids and Mars.

NASA’s robotic exploration of the moon continues this year with the blastoff of the LADEE Lunar observatory on Sept. 6 from NASA’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia.

Ken Kremer

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history - exactly 44 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history – exactly 44 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA

Apollo Rocket Engines Recovered from Atlantic Ocean Floor

Last year, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced that he had located some of the Apollo F-1 rocket engines and planned to recover them. He and his Bezos Expedition team were successful in recovering engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the Moon and have now brought “a couple of your F-1s home,” Bezos said in a message to NASA. On the Bezos Expedition website, Bezos called the recovery “an incredible adventure.”

Here are some pictures and a video of the recovery:

NASA was happy about the recovery as well.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a statement. “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.”

There is no indication so far from Bezos of which flight these engines were from. Last year when Bezos made his announcement, he said they had found the engines from Apollo 11, but it may be been difficult to determine exactly which flight the ones found were from. In total, NASA launched 65 F-1 engines, five per flight, on 13 Saturn V boosters between 1967 and 1973. Supposedly there would be serial numbers to make the identification of which flight these engines were from. Bezos indicated on his blog they were still on the ship, so perhaps the identification will come later.

Five F-1 engines were used in the 138-foot-tall S-IC, or first stage, of each Saturn V, which depended on the five-engine cluster for the 7.5 million pounds of thrust needed to lift it from the launch pad. Each of the engines stands 19 feet tall by 12 feet wide and weigh over 18,000 pounds.

F-1 Thrust Chamber. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
F-1 Thrust Chamber. Credit: Bezos Expeditions

Bezos and his team spent three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface. “We found so much,” Bezos wrote. “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.”

Gas Generator and Manifold. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Gas Generator and Manifold. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Thrust Chamber and Fuel Manifold. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Thrust Chamber and Fuel Manifold. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Nozzle on the ocean floor. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Nozzle on the ocean floor. Credit: Bezos Expeditions
Saturn V Stage Structure. Credit: Bezos Expeditions.
Saturn V Stage Structure. Credit: Bezos Expeditions.

See more images and descriptions at the Bezos Expeditions website.