Amazon founder attempts to recover the rockets that put man on the Moon


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The Independent Online

A few days before Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind, the five huge rocket engines that powered his spaceship into orbit took one giant splosh, into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

There they've stayed, for more than 42 years. But now, thanks to the wonders of the internet (or at least the billion-dollar fortunes it has created), at least one of those historic engines could finally be returning to dry land.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of the online retailer Amazon, says he has located the F-1 engines roughly 14,000 feet below the ocean surface. He is now drawing up plans to have one of them returned to dry land.

"We don't know yet what condition these engines might be in," Mr Bezos announced on his blog. "They hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."

The engines powered the Saturn V rocket that launched Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. They burnt for a few minutes after the craft's lift-off, on 16 July 1969, before separating from the mother ship with the bottom section of Apollo 11, as planned, and dropping into the water.

A few days later, the world watched Armstrong and Aldrin bounce across the surface of the Moon. Mr Bezos, who is 48 and has built a fortune estimated at more than $18bn, says that watching the spectacle as a child was among his most enduring formative experiences.

Mr Bezos did not say exactly when or where his undersea expedition located the engines. But he did reveal that they had been discovered using "state-of-the-art deep-sea sonar". He added that they remain the property of Nasa, and said that he hopes the agency will allow any of the engines he recovers to go on display in museums.

Decades of space exploration have left the ocean floor littered with equipment. Most of it has yet to be recovered, though in 2009, a private company salvaged Gus Grissom's Mercury capsule, which accidentally sank in the Atlantic after splashdown in 1961. It is now on display at a museum in Kansas.

Once the rocket engines have been raised, Mr Bezos has an array of other bizarre projects to devote his fortune to. Among those listed on his personal website are the creation of the "10,000 Year Clock", a device intended to be "a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking" that will keep time until the year 12012 and is to be built inside a mountain in West Texas.