By Mark K. Matthews - Orlando Sentinel
A team of underwater treasure hunters announced Wednesday that it has found — and recovered — major pieces of rocket engines from the Apollo moon program that were lost for decades in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral.
The team, funded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has spent the past three weeks at sea searching for the F-1 engines, which powered the Saturn V rockets that blasted the Apollo capsules to the moon in the 1960s and '70s.
The engine pieces were discovered about 360 miles east of Cape Canaveral in waters up to 14,000 feet deep.
The engines, along with the rest of the Saturn V rockets' first stage, were designed to splash into the Atlantic after liftoff. NASA never intended to recover them.
But about a year ago, Bezos said he would do just that. And he revealed the success Wednesday in a posting made to the website of his project, Bezos Expeditions.
"We've seen an underwater wonderland — an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves as testament to the Apollo program," Bezos wrote.
He said the team recovered enough material to "fashion displays of two flown F-1 engines," though it would be difficult to know which missions they flew because many of the serial numbers were missing.
"We might see more during restoration," he said. "The objects themselves are gorgeous."
Pictures released from the recovery effort show crew members cleaning off several pieces, including a turbine, thrust chamber and manifold. An intact F-1 engine measured about 19 feet tall and weighed more than 18,000 pounds.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said researchers in NASA's history office were working with the Bezos team to identify the pieces and which missions they came from.
The Apollo missions stand as the highlight of the U.S. space program — culminating with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 that put the first astronauts on the moon. There were a total of 11 manned Apollo flights from Kennedy Space Center from 1968 to 1972, when the lunar program was canceled.