Amazon's Jeff Bezos Discovers Historic Apollo 11 Rocket Engines at the Bottom of the Sea

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For four decades, the engines that powered Apollo 11 to the moon have lain at the bottom of the Atlantic. But they'll soon rise again.

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NASA

On July 16, 1969, the world watched as the Apollo 11 spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida, with three crewmen on board. Four days later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to ever set foot on the moon.

The original rocket engines -- "one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second" -- that powered that historic launch fell to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and have not been seen in the four decades since. But that won't be the case for long. Today on his blog, Amazon's Jeff Bezos announced that he has located the rockets, and he plans to bring them to the surface. He writes:

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. A year or so ago, I started to wonder, with the right team of undersea pros, could we find and potentially recover the F-1 engines that started mankind's mission to the moon?

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. 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.

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 first journey to another heavenly body, I imagine that NASA would decide to make it available to the Smithsonian for all to see. 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. (For clarity, I'll point out that no public funding will be used to attempt to raise the engines, as it's being undertaken privately.)

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.

We'll keep you posted.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bezos

Bezos's announcement comes on the heels of James Cameron's successful voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It's been a banner week for rich men exploring the depths of the seas.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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