• Jerrad Alexander, SpaceWorks Technician, examines an Apollo F-1 Thrust Chamber.

  • Jim Franko, SpaceWorks Technician, working on an Apollo F-1 Thrust Chamber. The components are undergoing cleaning with freshwater and anti-corrosion agents to remove ocean debris and prevent further decay.

A secret uncovered: Rocket chamber that is part of Cosmosphere effort is Apollo 11 relic, rep says

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A day before the 44th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon, Bezos Expeditions announced Friday that one of the F-1 rocket thrust chambers undergoing conservation and preservation by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center came from the Saturn V rocket that lifted Apollo 11 into space en route to that historic lunar landing.

In a four-paragraph blog post, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that conservators working at Spaceworks, a division of the Cosmosphere, had discovered serial numbers identifying the thrust chamber, found last March after 43 years on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, as Engine No. 5 from Apollo 11.

"When we stepped off the Seabed Worker four months ago in Port Canaveral, we had enough major components to fashion displays of two flown F-1 engines," Bezos wrote. "We brought back thrust chambers, gas generators, injectors, heat exchangers, turbines, fuel manifolds and dozens of other artifacts - all simply gorgeous and a striking testament to the Apollo program. There was one secret the ocean didn't give up easily: mission identification."

"The components' fiery end and heavy corrosion from 43 years under water removed or covered up most of the original serial numbers. We left Florida knowing the conservation team had their work cut out for them, and we've kept our fingers crossed ever since.

"Today I'm thrilled to share some exciting news: 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 No. 5 from Apollo 11."

Bezos wrote that the conservator found additional evidence - "Unit No. 2044" stamped into the metal surface - after removing corrosion at the base of the thrust chamber.

"Forty-four years ago ... Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it all possible," Bezos wrote. "Huge kudos to the conservation team at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson. Conservation is painstaking work that requires remarkable levels of patience and attention to detail, and these guys have both."

Cosmosphere officials said they could not comment on the discovery and referred requests to a spokesman at Amazon.com. Neither Bezos or any other spokesman for his project could be immediately reached for additional information.

Fully assembled, the F-1 rocket engines were 19 feet tall, 12 feet in diameter and weighed 18,000 pounds each, and there were five in each Saturn V rocket. The United States launched a dozen Saturn Vs between 1968 and 1972. In each case, after the F-1 engines in the first stage of the Saturn V burned out, the first stage fell back to Earth and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at more than 5,000 miles per hour.

Bezos Expeditions discovered the mangled remains of some of those engines more than 14,000 feet below the surface, recovered them and shipped them to Hutchinson, where the Spaceworks team is removing salt and debris from the parts and stabilizing them from further deterioration.

The conservation process is expected to take about two years, after which parts from one engine will be sent to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and parts from another to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Members of the public can view the restoration work in progress.

Tickets, available at the Cosmosphere at 1100 N. Plum St., are $1 for Cosmosphere members and $5 for nonmembers. Ticket-holders get a brief orientation visit in the Apollo Gallery at the Cosmosphere and are then taken by shuttle bus to the Spaceworks warehouse at 103 S. Whiteside.