LOS ANGELES — Rusted pieces of two Apollo-era rocket engines that helped boost astronauts to the moon have been fished out of the murky depths of the Atlantic, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and NASA said Wednesday.
A privately funded expedition led by Bezos raised the main engine parts during three weeks at sea and was headed back to Cape Canaveral, Fla., the launch pad for the manned lunar missions.
“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,” Bezos wrote in an online posting.
Last year, the Bezos team used sonar to spot the sunken engines resting nearly 3 miles deep in the Atlantic and 360 miles from Cape Canaveral. At the time, the Internet mogul said the artifacts were part of the Apollo 11 mission that gave the world “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Bezos now says it’s unclear which Apollo mission the recovered engines belonged to because the serial numbers were missing or hard to read on the corroded pieces. NASA is helping trace the hardware’s origin.
Apollo astronauts were launched aboard the mighty Saturn V rocket during the 1960s and 1970s. Each rocket had a cluster of five engines, which produced about 7 1/2 million pounds of thrust. After liftoff, the engines — each weighing 18,000 pounds — fell to the ocean as designed, with no plans to retrieve them.
Bezos and his team sent underwater robots to hoist the engines, which are NASA property. In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called the recovery “a historic find.”
Bezos plans to restore the engine parts, which included a nozzle, turbine, thrust chamber and heat exchanger. Amazon.com Inc. spokesman Drew Herdener declined Wednesday to reveal the cost of the recovery or restoration.
NASA has previously said an engine would head for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. If a second was recovered, it would be displayed at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where Amazon.com is based.
The ocean floor off Cape Canaveral is strewn with jettisoned rockets and flight parts from missions since the beginning of the Space Age. What survived after plunging into the ocean is unknown.
In one of the more famous recoveries, a private company in 2009 hoisted Gus Grissom’s Mercury capsule that accidentally sank in the Atlantic after splashdown in 1961. The capsule is now featured at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.
Besides running the online retailer, Bezos founded Blue Origins, one of the companies with a NASA contract to develop a spaceship to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.
In a previous posting, Bezos said he was inspired by NASA as a child, and by recovering the engines “maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore.”