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Bezos Expeditions retrieves and identifies Apollo 11 engine #5, NASA confirms identity

A team led by Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos has confirmed the identification of a Saturn V engine retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean. A NASA spokesman confirmed Bezos’s team’s find was accurate. The announcement comes a day before the 44th anniversary of Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.

The confirmation proves that the F-1 engine, engineered by the now defunct engineering rocket engine company Rocketdyne, was indeed used to carry the first astronauts to land on the moon.

An image of the serial number “2044” on Saturn V F-1 engine #5 as seen under blacklight. (Bezos Expeditions)

Bezos, who has had a fascination with spaceflight since childhood, financed a team of specialists under the umbrella of his venture capital investments firm, Bezos Expeditions, to retrieve the engines from the Atlantic Ocean. (Space-flight company Blue Origin is among those investments.) NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wished the team “all the luck in the world” in March 2012, after Bezos contacted NASA to let them know about the mission.

A year later, in March 2013, the team announced that they had successfully gone 14,000 feet below the sea surface and come back with two of the Saturn V first-stage engines. Then, on Friday, they announced that a conservationist conservator had managed to surface the identification markings on one of the five engines — a serial number “2044”.

A photograph of the identification number “2044” on the Saturn V F-1 engine after conservation work was done to remove rust and other build-up. (Bezos Expeditions)

In a blog post published Friday, Bezos described the process of surfacing the numbers from under layers of build-up:

“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. 2044 is the Rocketdyne serial number that correlates to NASA number 6044, which is the serial number for F-1 Engine #5 from Apollo 11. 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.”

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs confirmed in a phone call with The Washington Post on Friday that the engine’s identity was confirmed using data retrieved from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

So, who owns the engine? Bezos acknowledged in 2012, and Bolden confirmed in a statement, that NASA retained ownership of the artifacts the team recovered. Both parties also agreed that the first engine recovered would be offered to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The second engine, both Bezos and NASA agreed, would be made available to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

But, said NASA’s Jacobs, “we have no official relationship with Jeff’s group.”

Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at the introduction of the new Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite personal devices, in Santa Monica, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at the introduction of the new Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite personal devices, in Santa Monica, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (Reed Saxon/AP)

The Bezos team’s effort draws entirely on private funds. That means, unlike NASA’s broad and deep repository of photographs, videos, artifacts and data, images and video of the Bezos findings are not public domain by default. Also, while the Smithsonian knows that the engiens exist, a spokesman for the National Air and Space Museum said it would be “premature” to say whether the museum would accept the artifacts, since NASA had not formally announced results of their own analysis. Were the artifacts offered to the National Air and Space Museum, the spokesman said, “we would consider it.”

Here’s a video of the retrieval work posted by Bezos Expeditions team:

Emi Kolawole is the editor-in-residence at Stanford University's, where she works on media experimentation and design.



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Emi Kolawole · July 19, 2013

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