Why does Jeff Bezos care about dredging up old rocket engines?

NASA property.
NASA property.
Image: Jeff Bezos
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In March, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced that, after a year of searching, his team had dredged up several F-1 engines, remnants of the Apollo space program, from the ocean floor. With the parts highly damaged, Bezos wasn’t expecting to find the serial numbers that would identify which mission the engines were a part of. (After all, they’d dropped out of the sky at 5,000 MPH and sat underwater for a few decades.) Today, against all odds, he confirmed that one of the engines is just what he’d set out to find—one of those ejected from Apollo 11 as it took the first men to the moon.

Bezos owns Blue Origin, a company that’s competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to send manned commercial vehicles into space. But why was he searching for a bunch of corroded rocket engines? Bezos isn’t looking for space junk to mount over his fireplace: The engines are owned by NASA, and once he’s paid for their restoration he wants to see them displayed in a museum in Seattle. Reading Bezos’s blog posts on the project make it clear that it’s all for the love of discovery.

“What an incredible adventure…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 testament to the Apollo program,” he wrote on March 20, when the engines were first recovered. “Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.”

Bezos was equally effusive writing on the technology used to find the engines: several Remotely Operated Vehicles, which were working over 14,000 feet below the surface and connected to the ship with both fiber optic and electric cables, transmitting speedy video and 4,000 volts of power, waxing poetic on the views they provided of the ocean floor. When it came to the scant odds of actually confirming which mission the engines were from, Bezos wasn’t fazed. “Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing,” he wrote, “which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are beautiful.”

Today, his excitement over the unexpected confirmation was palpable.

“Forty four years ago tomorrow,” he wrote, “Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it all possible.”