Thanks to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, NASA donates to Seattle’s Museum of Flight the restored remains of an Apollo 12 Moon mission rocket engine. The historic engine was recovered from the Atlantic in 2013 by Bezos.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos delivered a gift in person Thursday, one he retrieved from as far below sea level as the summit of Mount Rainier is above it.
Bezos, who was 5 when the Apollo moon landings fired a passion for space travel, funded and led an expedition that in 2013 located and recovered the remains of several Apollo booster-rocket engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean 14,000 feet down.
At his request, NASA is donating to Seattle’s Museum of Flight the restored remains of an F-1 booster engine from Apollo 12, which on Nov. 19, 1969, became the second mission to land men on the moon.
Bezos told the audience — including a large contingent of students from Raisbeck Aviation High School across the street from the museum — that watching Neil Armstrong become the first person to step onto the moon had imprinted him with “this idea of science, engineering, technology and exploration.”
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He showed a video documenting the underwater expedition and advanced robotic technology that retrieved the engine parts from a mile deeper in the ocean than the wreck of the Titanic.
“To bring those pieces up on deck and actually touch them, that brought back for me all those feelings I had when I was 5 years old and watched those missions go to the moon,” Bezos said in the video. “If this results in one young explorer, one young adventurer, one young inventor, doing something amazing that helps the world, I’m totally fulfilled.”
Bezos now has his own rocket company, Kent-based Blue Origin, with ambitious plans including the development of a new rocket engine that’s vying to replace the Russian engines used to launch U.S. space rockets.
The Apollo program’s cone-shaped F-1 engines, arrayed in a cluster of five at the base of each rocket, are the most powerful engines ever flown.
Each delivered one-and-a-half-million pounds of thrust and burned 6,000 pounds of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second.
The massive engines, each more than 18.5 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, burned for just a few minutes, long enough to boost the 50-ton Saturn V rocket to the edge of space. Then the first stage, including the engines, fell away and plunged some 40 miles back to Earth and into the Atlantic, as NASA planned.
Bezos Expeditions used state-of-the-art deep-sea sonar to locate the engines off Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Operating unmanned, undersea robotic vehicles tethered to a ship with 3-mile-long fiber optic and electric cables, Bezos’ team recovered enough major components to make displays of two F-1 engines.
Bezos clearly relished the memory of his three weeks at sea on the recovery expedition, including one week when a heavy storm stopped all work.
He joked and laughed about the traditional mariners’ superstition against bringing bananas aboard a boat — he brought lots — and how fortunate it was that the ship carrying such unlucky bananas remained just outside the Bermuda Triangle.
He described the skill involved in hoisting these heavy metal objects from the ocean floor and depositing them on the deck of a tossing ship as “a kind of ballet.”
The disc-shaped fuel injector from one Apollo 12 engine — a marvel of 1960s-era engineering — will be previewed at the museum from Nov. 21 until Jan. 4.
Then it will be moved to the museum’s archives until 2017, when it will return as part of a new, permanent Apollo exhibit showcasing larger components of salvaged Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 engine remains, other Apollo artifacts including lunar rocks, and a display on the career of Apollo 12 Cmdr. Charles “Pete” Conrad.
Bezos’ expedition also recovered the remains of an Apollo 11 engine that helped to put the first men on the moon on July 20, 1969. Bezos has said he intends to donate that engine to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.