Apollo Engine ours; says NASA

Friday, March 30th 2012. | Science News

Nasa1NASA insisted Friday that it has dibs on rocket engines sitting deep on the Atlantic Ocean floor, a day after a wealthy adventurer announced the discovery of the prized pieces of space history.

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos revealed Thursday that, using deep-sea sonar, a team had found the F-1 engines that powered the Saturn V rocket carrying Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission to the moon “lying 14,00 feet below the surface.”

“We’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor,” the billionaire investor and entrepreneur wrote.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in his own statement Friday, applauded Bezos and his team for their “historic find” and wished them “all the luck in the world.”

At the same time, he stated that any Apollo engine that’s recovered belongs to the space agency.

“NASA does retain ownership of any artifacts recovered and would likely offer one of the Saturn V F-1 engines to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington under longstanding arrangements with the institution,” Bolden said.

The NASA administrator added that he’d directed staff “to provide a smooth and expeditious disposition of any flight hardware recovered.”

Bezos himself requested, in a message to NASA, that an F-1 engine or another space artifact be put on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. This could still happen if the “Smithsonian declines” to take an engine that’s raised from the ocean’s depths “or if a second engine is recovered,” according to the NASA administrator.

“I sincerely hope all continues to go well for Jeff and Blue Origin, and that his team enjoys success and prosperity in every endeavor,” said Bolden, referring to the Bezos-led venture into space flight. “All of us at NASA have our fingers crossed for success in his upcoming expedition of exploration and discovery.”

Bezos said Thursday that the condition of the discovered engines, which slammed into the ocean more than 42 years ago and have been in the saltwater ever since, isn’t known.

“On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see,” he said.

Each of the engines weighs nearly nine 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 propelled the largest rocket in history up 38 miles in under three minutes.

After doing their work, the rockets plummeted into the ocean, where they had been undiscovered for more than 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 65 of these engines were launched. He said if the engines can be brought to the surface and a serial number can be found, it would be easy to authenticate the find.

But bringing them up could 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.

Bezos made his announcement days after another wealthy, high-profile adventurer — James Cameron — made deep-sea history himself, as the first person to explore solo the deepest spot in all the world’s oceans, in the Mariana Trench. Also this week, Sir Richard Branson used millions to fund his attempts to travel around the globe in a balloon.

Pearlman said Bezos’ disclosure came as a complete surprise to the space memorabilia world.

“But that fits into the way he does business,” Pearlman said, referring to Blue Origins, which aims to make human spaceflight 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.”

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