Amazon's Jeff Bezos confirms: We got an Apollo 11 rocket engine!


NBC News

That's one small serial number on salvaged hardware, one giant leap for space history: billionaire Jeff Bezos says markings on one of the rocket engine components recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic in March confirm that it came from Apollo 11's first stage.

"Forty-four years ago tomorrow, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it possible," Bezos said Friday in an update to his Bezos Expeditions website.

Bezos suspected that the F-1 engines came from the mission that delivered humans to the moon for the first time in 1969, but he held off from confirmation until the evidence could be documented.

That evidence, in the form of serial numbers, had been hidden by heavy corrosion on the parts. The rocket components were part of a five-engine complement that pushed the Saturn 5 rocket off its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The engines, along with the rest of the rocket's first stage, were jettisoned minutes after liftoff and made a fiery plunge into the Atlantic, where they sat for more than four decades.

Bezos, a space enthusiast who founded the Blue Origin rocket venture, backed a months-long effort to recover the engines. The hardware was sent to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center for conservation.

"One of the conservators who was scanning the objects with a black light and a special lens filter has made a breakthrough discovery - '2044' - stenciled in black paint on the side of one of the massive thrust chambers," Bezos wrote on Friday. "2044 is the Rocketdyne serial number that correlates to NASA number 6044, which is the serial number for F-1 Engine No. 5 from Apollo 11."

Bezos said "the intrepid conservator kept digging for more evidence, and after removing more corrosion at the base of the same thrust chamber, he found it - 'Unit No 2044' - stamped into the metal surface."

Any piece of a flown Apollo moon rocket would be a plum for any museum, but the fact that the thrust chamber played a part in the very first lunar landing is likely to add to its cachet. Enough components were recovered to produce two engine exhibits - one for the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, and one for Seattle's Museum of Flight.

The Cosmosphere's president, Jim Remar, says he expects the conservation work to be finished by 2015.