Apollo 11 brought mankind to the moon for the first time in 1969, only to discard its engines into the ocean.
On Wednesday, Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced the location of the Apollo 11 rocket engines -- 14,000 feet (4,300 meters) underwater off Florida's Atlantic coast.
The Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 spaceflight is launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969 in this handout photo courtesy of NASA. Space enthusiast and entrepreneur Jeff Bezos has found the rocket motors used to send the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon and plans to mount a recovery expedition soon, the Amazon.com CEO and founder reported on a blog post. The five F-1 engines were fired up on July 16, 1969, sending the massive Saturn 5 rocket on its way to the moon. The motors burned out a few minutes after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center and tumbled into the Atlantic Ocean.
Bezos said he's planning a mission to recover the five engines -- each weighs about 9 tons (8,200 kilograms) -- that will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution since they remain the property of the U.S. government. Bezos said he asked space agency NASA to send one engine to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where Amazon is based.
"Millions of people were inspired by the Apollo program," Bezos said. "I was 5 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?"
Using Deep-Sea Sonar
Bezos used "state-of-the-art deep-sea sonar" to locate the engines, but he didn't elaborate as to whether the sonar was from surface equipment or underwater robots.
Although further information on the recovery mission wasn't available, Robert Pearlman, an expert on space history and collectibles, told MSNBC: "If I were a betting fellow, I would say that Bezos is closer to mounting an expedition than the statement seems to imply."
NASA used the 18-foot, 32 million-horsepower engines to generate 1.5 million pounds of thrust and launch Apollo 11 into space. A few minutes after takeoff, the rocket's engines, by design, plunged back to Earth.
Any recovery mission would be difficult, according to an MSNBC interview with Curt Newport, an underwater-salvage expert who helped NASA raise other artifacts from the ocean.
"If they're intact, they're like 9 tons each," he said. "That is not going to be easy to bring to the surface."
In addition, it's likely the rockets are spread out and may be buried under other debris, he said.
"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," Bezos said in a statement. "On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."
A spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Bob Jacobs, commended Bezos on his find.
"There has always been great interest in artifacts from the early days of space exploration and his announcement only adds to the enthusiasm of those interested in NASA's history," Jacobs told the Associated Press.
Bezos is the latest billionaire to fund an expedition to the deep sea. Hollywood director James Cameron became the deepest underwater explorer Monday after the director of "Titanic" and "Avatar" ventured to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean's Marianas trench, over 6 miles (9 kilometers) deep.
"My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity," Cameron told the AP shortly after resurfacing from his six-hour dive. "I felt like I literally, in the space of one day, had gone to another planet and come back."
Richard Branson, best known for his airline, Virgin Atlantic, and his mobile service provider, Virgin Mobile, is also trying to explore the oceans. He launched Virgin Oceanic in 2009 and is developing a submersible capable of carrying passengers 7 miles (11 kilometers) deep. He hopes to make the first dive sometime in 2012.
"Virgin Oceanic will expand the reach of human exploration on our planet," Branson told DailyTech. "By promoting and utilizing new technology, Virgin Oceanic will aid humankind's ability to explore our oceans, assist science in understanding our ecosystem and raise awareness of the challenges facing our oceans."
Follow us on LinkedIn