Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket

Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket (March 29, 2012)

Just days after "Titanic"director James Cameron traveled to the bottom of the sea, another wealthy adventurer has announced a spectacular deep ocean discovery.

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has unveiled plans to recover the F-1 engines that powered the Saturn V rocket carrying Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 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," the billionaire investor and entrepreneur wrote.

"We don't know yet what condition these engines might be in; they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in saltwater for more than 40 years," said Bezos. "On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."

Bezos said that watching that original mission as a 5-year-old in 1969 inspired him to dream big, and now he wants to undertake the huge challenge of pulling the engines up.

Each of the engines weighs nearly 9 tons, and they came in a cluster of five. They provided 32 million horsepower by burning 6,000 pounds of fuel every second, and the five together put the largest rocket in history 38 miles up in under three minutes.

After doing their work, the rockets plummeted into the ocean, where they have been undiscovered for four decades. NASA had some clues as to where they landed, and a piece of the debris landed on a German merchant ship, providing more clues.

Robert Pearlman, a space memorabilia expert who runs CollectSpace.com, said there were a total of 65 of these engines launched. He said if the engines are able to be brought to the surface and a serial number can be found, it would be easy to authenticate the find.

But bringing them up will be a challenge. "If all five are still clumped together, it will be like trying to bring up the big part of the Titanic," Pearlman said.

Still, it's not the first time a lost piece of the space race era has been found. NASA's Mercury 7 space capsule piloted by Gus Grissom was found and recovered in 1999.

It's just the latest instance of a well-financed businessman making a big splash discovery or extreme feat.

Just this week James Cameron took a solo dive to the deepest part of the ocean, while Sir Richard Branson used millions to fund his attempts to travel around the globe in a balloon.

Pearlman said Bezos' announcement came as a complete surprise to the space memorabilia world.

"But that fits into the way he does business," Pearlman said, noting Bezos' other venture into space flight, Blue Origins, which aims to make human space flight cheaper and easier. "Bezos and that Blue Origins have always played their cards very close to their chest and often don't share their milestones until after they have succeeded."

But profits don't seem to be behind Bezos' quest to find the F-1 engines. The rocket engines remain property of NASA and the U.S. government, and Bezos wrote that he would like to pull the engines to the surface and then have NASA put them on display at a museum in Seattle.

The Saturn V engines could be priceless historically, but hard to put a cash value on. Pearlman noted that the highest price paid for a piece of space memorabilia was $2 million, paid by a Russian investor for a Soviet-era Vostok rocket.

"It's hard to imagine getting two investors to get in a bidding war at auction over them," said Pearlman.

"Components have sold for thousands of dollars, but they were all spare parts. But you have to have pretty deep pockets and a very big space to put something like this on display and maintain it."

 

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