Apollo F-1 engines recovered from Atlantic ocean floor by Bezos Expeditions

Gas Generator and Manifold. Photo: Bezos Expeditions

A space history project led by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has exciting news out today: Apollo mission F-1 engines have been recovered from deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic ocean, as the "F-1 Recovery Project" years in the making reaches a successful conclusion.

Here's video of the Remote Operated Vehicles recovering the engines from the ocean floor.

The F-1 rocket engine is still a modern wonder — 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. On July 16, 1969, the world watched as five particular F-1 engines fired in concert, beginning the historic Apollo 11 mission. Those five F-1s burned for just a few minutes, and then plunged back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean, just as NASA planned. A few days later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.
"We're excited to be bringing a couple of your F-1s home," Bezos said to NASA.

And Boing Boing has a statement from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden:

Nearly one year ago, Jeff Bezos shared with us his plans to recover F-1 engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We share the excitement expressed by Jeff and his team in announcing the recovery of two of the powerful Saturn V first-stage engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

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.

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.

Jeff and his colleagues at Blue Origin are helping to usher in a new commercial era of space exploration and we are confident that our continued collaboration will soon result in private human access to space, creating jobs and driving America's leadership in innovation and exploration.

And here is a snip from the blog post by Bezos, just published moments ago:

What an incredible adventure. 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.

Thrust Chamber and Fuel Manifold. Photo: Bezos Expeditions

F-1 Thrust Chamber. Photo: Bezos Expeditions

F-1 Thrust Chamber on ocean floor. Photo: Bezos Expeditions

Saturn V Stage Structure. Photo: Bezos Expeditions

Nozzle. Photo: Bezos Expeditions


  1. It’s pretty cool what puny humans can do when we put our guns down long enough. Now is a good time for an inspirational quote from mankind’s greatest space explorer:

    Captain Zapp Brannigan: We have failed to uphold Brannigan’s Law. However I did make it with a hot alien babe. And in the end, is that not what man has dreamt of since first he looked up at the stars?

      1.  Which doesn’t mean a damn thing. We could have even more progress in space if we stopped wasting a 1 Trillion+ per year on guns and spent it on education, research, and exploration.

        1. I hate war as much as anybody, but it’s silly, at best, to pretend that the past didn’t happen the way it did.

          Who was putting up rockets for “exploration”, before the military decided they wanted to put up rockets for other reasons?  Who was trying to build a nuclear reactor, before the military decided to fund its creation?  Who was paying for computers?  Or jet engines?

          A lot of inventions like these share some interesting properties.  First, that they take a *lot* of time, money, and people to develop.  Second, that they’re not immediately profitable in the commercial sector, but do immediately have significant military uses.  Third, that they’re risky: the modern incarnation looks obvious in hindsight (or in a textbook), but at the time when they were invented, all of these were just one of many possible strategies being tried.

          Sure, we can say we’d rather pay $25B (the Manhattan Project cost in today’s dollar) for peaceful nuclear research, but when the project started, success of nuclear power was anything but certain.  No investor would ever put up $25B for something so risky (if one investment group even had that kind of money to invest).  It’s only when you’re facing such a horror as a world-wide war on several fronts, and when you have the resources of one of the world’s largest governments, that this combination of factors combines to allow these kinds of inventions.

          For example, I think everybody agrees that a stable fusion reactor would be an incredible milestone, yet even though we’ve poured way more than $25B into the problem, nobody has done it.  The experts seem to think we’re still at least 50 years away.  Will money help?  Time?  Certainly if the Manhattan Project hadn’t taken all of the stupid risks they did (manual critical mass experiments!?) they wouldn’t have been able to work as quickly.

          There are peaceful governments who have never waged war in recent history.  They are welcome to spend tax money on research and development, and often do.  In practice, they tend to export their brightest minds to America to do R&D there.

          1. I didn’t see anyone pretending the past didn’t happen. And nothing in your comment contradicts the idea that more progress in space could be made by redirecting military spending. Sure, it’s a theoretical, idealistic idea, but the political obstacles you describe don’t change what *could* be.

          2.  It is true that R&D in pursuit of military goals has yielded great achievements.  However, it’s not a perfect picture.  For instance, the path our government chose as a result of the naval nuclear power program (i.e. light water reactor) caused the nuclear industry to stymie pursuit of much safer, more efficient, less costly, much less wasteful technologies such as the Molten Salt Reactor.  Spend a few moments researching the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor to better understand that an R&D effort completely dominated by the military industrial complex (“MIC”) is not always a good thing.  I’m not saying developments like the USS Nautilus were not incredible achievements.  I’m simply saying that with hindsight, we also missed some incredible opportunities as a result of our MIC blinders.

        2. The thing of it is, while $1 trillion sounds like a lot, in the US’s $15 trillion economy it’s about three weeks’ income. (This also the problem with the Stimulus – it was about the size of a Christmas bonus check.)

  2. Imagine what the sea floor would look like if the water were gone.  Like a vast muddy plain littered with sunken ships, debris, the occasional pile of barrels, etc.

          1. Ah.  Commander Hyperenunciator.  I’m surprised that I didn’t recognize him.

  3. The majority of people alive today that are too young to have any direct memory of moon landings.  That giant leap became a stumble.  We have fallen and we can’t get up.

    1. I like to think that we came to our senses and realized that sending people up there really didn’t accomplish much scientifically.  Keeping people alive in space requires enormous amounts of resources, and often leaves you with little room for actual mission payload.  This was the primary problem with the Shuttle, most of its missions didn’t really need a human crew but because the crew compartment was an integral part of the machine you had to send people up every time regardless. 

      The real stumble was NASA not getting started much much earlier on the replacement vehicle and leaving itself a huge gap between the end of the Shuttle program and the start of whatever they finally adopt in the future. 

      1. It’ll probably get a lot more important in the future when us short sighted humans finally wrest every last ounce of usable resource from the chunk of rock we’re currently stuck on.

        Things are depressingly grim for earth, and while I question the wisdom of spreading our cancer to the rest of the solar system, if we want to survive as a race it’s only a matter of time before it’s required.

        1. I wouldn’t worry too much about destroying the vibrant ecosystem on Mars or Titan or even Venus.

          Colonizing another planet is also well beyond our current means.  If we found out today that a huge planet destroying astroid was going to hit Earth in 10 years, the human race would be screwed.  25 years we might have a shot at surviving on Mars, but it would be a crash course in terraforming and require a level of cooperation unprecedented in human history.  Colonization of such a hostile world is guaranteed to be fraught with problems and every kilogram you send there is enormously expensive, so any problems are magnified many times over. 

          1.  We’d be better off trying the nuke the ‘roid off course.  As if that would even work, but at least we tried.

          2. I ve often thought that a huge project requiring the cooperation of the entire population of the Earth is exactly whtat is needed to homogenize the inhabitants, remember the accomplishment of the greatest generation, during the war. Cooperation and teamwork are incredible things.

          3. We have the technology today to send hundreds of CFC-producing mini-factories to Mars, which can then start pumping those CFCs into the atmosphere, increasing the temperature and pressure such that humans wouldn’t freeze to death or have to muster all their strength just to inhale. This process would take approximately 100 years. Hopefully we will have found a way to speed up the process before we receive such dire news as a life-ending meteoroid heading toward Terra.

            Personally, I think there’s no reason that we can’t have a semi-permanent human presence on Luna/Mars by 2025, based on the rate the private sector is going.

          4.  There was a movie made about this called “The Arrival” (1996).  Unfortunately, it was based on the premise that aliens (also illegal) wanted to terraform OUR planet!

          5. Planet Killing Asteroids?!? I suspect we’d be better served by simply developing exercises that made us all nimble enough to bend over and kiss our @$$e$ goodbye.

        2. The future is dim for the human species perhaps, the earth however will still be here for a very long time.

      2. Yes…people are becoming redundant. We even don’t need pilots to drop bombs on people anymore!

  4. Watching the moon launches as a kid (some of them in person) was amazing, my Dad worked on the Saturn Rockets.  Back then I had planned to retire on the moon, thinking about the failed American Space Program depresses me now that I’m older.

  5. Oh please. All these years later and we’re just now recovering this supposed proof that an Apollo rocket splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean? A little convenient, wouldn’t you say? Nothing like 44 years of breathing room to manufacture evidence in.

    Wake up, sheeple. There’s no such thing as the Atlantic Ocean.

    1. My god.  He’s right!  All these years I’ve been duped by the maps, the oceangoing vessels, all that Atlantic cod I ate.  Mere trappings!  Oh, what a fool I’ve been!

    1. Some investor he turned out to be. He spent all that dough to find those engines and now it turns out they don’t even work anymore.

    2.  Actually, his motivations were not selfless.  In fact, Jeff wants to use these engines in his F1 car.

  6. Is. . .is that a lawnmower pull-cord I see sticking out of the side of one of those things?

    1. Yup, someone originally had to pull the ignition cord to get the couplers heated and ready to launch. It’s amazing how many things were man-powered back in the early space exploration days. Most people don’t realize it, but the lunar rover was actually pedal powered.

  7. Yes, Moon Landing deniers, Jeff Bezos is the real life version of S.R. Hadden from “Contact”.

  8. Thanks for wrecking what could have been one of the most significant archaeological sites in human history, Mr Bezos.  Now lets see if the X-Prize assholes can trash the rest of Apollo 11’s lunar remains.      

    1.  Sorry, how is this wrecking anything? It IS one of the most significant archaeological sites in human history already, and Jeff Bezos is excavating it so that the artifacts can be restored and viewed in a museum. Or do you think museums shouldn’t exist? Because your current argument suggests you think all museum artifacts should still be resting in the earth where they were found.

      1. Human history is not mountain climbing. We don’t dig it because it’s there.  When a site is excavated, it is destroyed.  If we did not have 9 or 10 F-1 engines already on display in Museums across the country, then there could be a small justification for excavation.  Imagine a site in Africa where we had evidence of the first human footprints.   The site is worth more to humanity intact.  We would not chisel out individual footprints and send them to museums.  100 years from now, the intact site of humanity’s first steps into space would have been worth more than some billionaires stupid publicity stunt.

        1. Actually we do chisel out footprints and send them to museums; I’ve seen many myself. 100 years from now, humans will still not have developed gills or incredibly strong skin, so that they may visit this sea floor location, so the intact site of some of the key remnants of humanity’s first voyage* (FTFY) will still be useless to humans at large. Thus, Jeff Bezos has done us a great service by rendering to us a restored original artifact in an easily-visitable place, rather than letting it sit, possibly forgotten and lost, in a spot where less than one percent of one percent of all humans have the ability to visit.

  9. NASA: “Oh, gee, uh, thanks, guys.  Wow.  Thanks.  Those are really big.  And heavy.  And, boy they sure took a beating, didn’t they?  That’s neat you found that, um, stuff.  Why don’t you just put that over there…  Right, next to that pile of scrap.  Or, oh! You know what?  Instead of unloading it, if you could just keep on hauling that down to the county dump, that’d be great.  Congratulations on your ‘find.’  Thanks again!”

  10. I am a machinist for the company that made that ROV that appears in the video. I am straight beaming with pride right now.

    There are not an awful lot of those things. Odds are high that I made parts of that very one.

    It is my firm belief, and not only for my obvious self-interest, that exploring the oceans is more important than exploring space. We have barely scratched the surface of what there is to find down there.

    It is three in the morning. I just ended my shift at work manufacturing the swivel pieces that connect the TMS(tether management system) to the ship out of 13” bars of 5″ titanium round stock. I have made nearly every component of the Titan arm that is holding the vacuum in the video. I love my job. Tonight I sleep with a smile.

      1.  psst. Xeni… I’m flattered that you replied to me. You are one of my heroes. Stay strong.

  11. I suppose we now know who to call the next time the US Air Force loses a nuclear weapon over the Atlantic.  Apparently, the National Command Authority is replacing the terms “Broken Arrow” & “Empty Quiver” with Jeff Bezos’ phone number.

    1.  It takes deep pockets to develop ROV technology. The sorts of uses that are not secret involve things like oil drilling. The sorts that *are* secret may or may not be in line with your suggestion in the comment above.

      Another use is salvage operations. You know, things like millions in gold bullion from old shipwrecks… but big Mr. Schilling likes to joke: you make sure those guys pay upfront.

  12. a remarkable achievement but i would rather he recovered the engineering expertise required to build an F1 engine.

Comments are closed.