AFTER more than four decades lying 14,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the mighty engines that launched mankind on its first mission to land on the Moon are to be retrieved.
Their surprising saviour is not Nasa, the US government space agency that launched the Apollo 11 spaceflight, but Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.
He has announced that a hunt for the F-1 engines – which splashed down after helping to heave the Saturn rocket that sent Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins into space in July 1969 – have been found by his team of explorers using sophisticated sonar.
Their recovery from a location 2,000ft deeper than the wreck of the Titanic will require a highly technical, costly and potentially dangerous expedition.
Mr Bezos, whose wealth is estimated at £11.5 billion, will fund the mission. “We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in – they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years,” he said. “On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see.”
The F-1 is the most powerful single-chamber liquid rocket engine yet built. Five were used on the first stage of the Saturn V that carried the Apollo 11 mission aloft.
The engines remain the property of Nasa. Mr Bezos, 48, said that if he recovered one, Nasa would be likely to donate it to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. If he manages two, he hopes that it will go to the Museum of Flight in his home city of Seattle, Washington.
His announcement comes days after Hollywood film director James Cameron piloted a solo voyage to the deepest point on Earth, 36,756ft down in the Pacific Ocean.