The Day Jeff Bezos Came Across the Coordinates of the Apollo 11 Rocket Crash Site Online and Went to Go Look for It

  • The Saturn V engines had been lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for 44 years before Bezos salvaged them.

  • Now, he has a part of the engine displayed in his living room.

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, like many other tech moguls, was a fan of science fiction since he was a kid, particularly the space books of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. He’s also a dedicated Trekkie who knows old Star Trek episodes by heart.

However, in interviews, when asked about his motivation behind Blue Origin–the aerospace company he created and now focuses on after stepping down as CEO of Amazon–he frequently refers to one date: July 16, 1969.

On that day, a five-year-old Bezos watched the live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission launch. Four days later, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. Down on Earth, 600 million television viewers watched the making of history.

The Five Engines of Saturn V

Apollo 11

The Apollo 11 mission to the Moon was launched using NASA's powerful Saturn V rocket. The rocket’s first stage, built by Boeing, was equipped with five large F-1 engines manufactured by Rocketdyne.

Each of these engines, which were 12.2 feet in diameter at the widest part of their nozzle, generated a thrust of 6.7 million newtons. This was enough power to lift the 2,800-ton rocket from the launch pad to an altitude of 42 miles. At this point, the first stage separated from the second stage, traveling at a speed of 5,000 mph.

After expending its fuel, the first stage, known as S-IC, descended into the Atlantic Ocean. Upon impact, it sank to the ocean floor, with no plans for recovery. It wasn’t until 44 years later that someone decided to search for it at the bottom of the ocean. That someone was Bezos.

Atlantic Deep-Sea Expedition

Apollo 11

In 2012, Bezos, who was already one of the richest people in the world because of his Amazon shares, decided to finance the rescue of the F-1 engines that had launched the Apollo missions.

The idea came to him while he was browsing the Internet in his living room. Bezos stumbled upon the impact coordinates of the Saturn V and thought it would be an easy project. Using his Bezos Expeditions fund, the Amazon founder set up a recovery team called the F-1 Engine Recovery Project.

However, getting the engines back turned out to be a lot more challenging than Bezos thought. It took 60 people, cutting-edge technology, and three complicated weeks at sea. Despite the difficulties, in March 2013, the team successfully retrieved several components of the Apollo 11 engines from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, at a depth of more than 2,600 miles.

Even Bezos’ parents celebrated on the ship. Bezos later mentioned that his mother was the only woman among the 60 men, and that the Norwegian captain of the ship had removed all the pornographic material from the walls out of respect.

From Apollo 11 to Bezos’ Mansion

Apollo 11

Among the components recovered were thrust chambers, gas generators, injectors, heat exchangers, turbines, fuel manifolds, and dozens of other items. These components were from Apollo 11 and other Apollo missions.

While they weren’t in the same pristine condition as the museum pieces from the Saturn V rockets that never flew, they were the real engines that took humankind to the Moon–the missions to space that have most profoundly changed our world, with Yuri Gagarin’s permission.

The artifacts recovered in the three weeks of 2013 are displayed in numerous museums, but Bezos kept some souvenirs. Part of an Apollo 11 engine is in an urn in the living room of his Washington D.C. mansion.

Image | NASA | Blue Origin | Bezos Expeditions

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