Tag Archives: Doug King

Museum of Flight receives F-1 engines that launched Apollo

Forty-six years ago today Apollo 12 became the second craft to land people on the Moon. Today the Museum of Flight received an incredible treasure: parts of the Rocketdyne F-1 engines that blasted Apollo into orbit.

Doug King, president of the Museum of Flight, announces the gift of the Apollo F-1 engines at a news conference Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Doug King, president of the Museum of Flight, announces the gift of the Apollo F-1 engines at a news conference Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The engines were found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013 by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his team from Bezos Expeditions. Bezos requested that the engines be donated to the museum and NASA honored that request.

“This is truly a historic day for the museum, for our community,” said Doug King, president and CEO of the Museum of Flight. “I don’t think it’s too grandiose to say for our country and maybe even for humankind.”

“Exhibiting these historic engines not only shares NASA’s storied history, it also helps America educate to innovate,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a news release. “This display of spaceflight greatness can help inspire our next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers and explorers to build upon past successes and create the new knowledge and capabilities needed to enable our journey to Mars.”

Bezos said he became interested in science and exploration as a five-year-old watching Neil Armstrong’s first small step on the Moon.

“You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you,” he said. Bezos said he thinks about rockets at lot, and one day it occurred to him that it would be great to find and restore those F-1 engines. The engineers who built them were working to send people to the Moon, and few folks at the time were thinking about posterity.

Expendable stuff

“That first stage with these gigantic engines is expendable; it’s supposed to crash into the ocean, that was the whole plan,” Bezos said.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos talks about his passion for space and the project to recover the F-1 engines. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“We’re working on changing that plan,” he continued. “I have this space company called Blue Origin; we’re trying to make reusable rockets because we don’t like throwing the hardware away.”

It took Bezos all of ten minutes of Internet searching to find the coordinates at which NASA said the Apollo 11 first stage rocket crashed. The hunt was on.

“That was going to prove to be the only easy thing about this project,” Bezos laughed. It was an incredibly complicated endeavor. Bezos Expeditions put together a team of more than 60 people who are experts in ocean recovery. They searched some 300 square miles of ocean with side-scanning sonar to find the engines and then pulled them out from under 14,000 feet of seawater, where they’d been at rest for more than 40 years.

The parts were restored at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. Much of the damage to the engines was caused not by their high-speed crash into the sea, but by silt and corrosion from four decades in salt water, though the large and highly recognizable bell-shaped nozzle extensions were badly mangled.

Great museum pieces

Geoff Nunn, the adjunct curator for space history at the museum, said the engines that drove Apollo were marvels of engineering.

Geoff Nunn

Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the Museum of Flight, talked about what makes the F-1 engines a special artifact. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“The Rocketdyne F-1 was the largest single-chambered liquid-fueled rocket ever flown,” Nunn said. “Each engine produced over a million and a half pounds of thrust and stood 18 and a half feet tall.”

That’s quite a kick. King said all of the planes in the museum’s entire collection collectively have only half that much thrust. Five F-1s launched each Saturn V.

The first piece unwrapped at the news conference this morning, still in its shrink wrap from Cosmosphere, was an injector plate from one of the Apollo 12 engines.

“The injector plate is really what is key to making the F-1 engine an engine and not just a million and a half pounds of bomb,” Nunn explained. “It’s covered in these minute holes that release fuel and oxidizer in an incredibly precise mixture in order to ensure that the combustion that occurs is smooth and controlled.”

Bezos injector

Bezos talks about the workings of the F-1 engine injector plate. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Some of the F-1 engine components will go on public display at the museum starting Saturday and will be out until early January. The full collection will be part of a new, permanent exhibit that will open late next year or in early 2017.

For Bezos, finding and restoring artifacts like the F-1 engines is not about looking to the past.

“It’s about today and it’s about the future,” he said. “It’s about building a 21st-century version of the F-1 engine. It’s about building reusable rockets.

“Civilization for many centuries has been getting better and better, and the point of recovering an object like this is to remind us of who we are and what we can do as we move forward as a civilization.”

The video below from Bezos Expeditions tells the tale of the recovery of the F-1 engines from the briny Atlantic.

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NASA administrator tours shuttle trainer exhibit at Museum of Flight

NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden says Seattle’s Museum of Flight scored big when it landed the space agency’s Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) for permanent exhibit.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Bolden flew four shuttle missions and trained in the FFT, as did all shuttle astronauts. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“I think the Museum of Flight won the prize when it comes to education,” Bolden said during a tour of the exhibit this week at the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. “No other place with an orbiter can do what is done here. No other place can have somebody essentially walk in the same footsteps that John Glenn, John Young, other people walked when they go through the payload bay or they go up on the flight deck or the mid-deck. That’s actually where we trained.”

When NASA announced at the end of the shuttle program that it would award the retired orbiters to museums around the country, it set off an intense competition between some two dozen institutions that all wanted one of the prized artifacts. The Museum of Flight went all-in and built the $12 million, 15,500 square-foot space gallery with no guarantee that it would receive a shuttle. When Bolden announced two years ago that the shuttles would go elsewhere, Museum of Flight President and CEO Doug King recognized that being able to go into the FFT would be a great draw for visitors. Sure enough, it’s been very busy since the exhibit opened in November.

Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at the Museum of Flight Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It’s been huge,” King said. “We had record attendance all through the holidays and on into this year.” He added that a special education program, though which a small number of visitors actually visit the crew cabin, has sold out every weekend.

The exhibit is truly impressive. For one thing, the FFT is gigantic. I attended several events in the space gallery before the trainer arrived, and the room is enormous. The FFT virtually fills it. The gallery includes a half-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps the most famous payload ever carried by a shuttle, and a mockup of the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage that was used to launch satellites into space from the shuttle. There’s also a Soyuz capsule, a Charon Test Vehicle from Blue Origin, and information about many of the commercial spaceflight efforts in the works. These may well be the source for future additions to the exhibit; King already has his eye on one of the Dragon vehicles being flown by SpaceX, and envisions an “arrivals” board for the gallery that identifies what is flying in next. Bolden added that exhibits about the commercial space ventures are important to inspire kids who are the next generation of engineers, space adventurers, and dreamers.

King says he expects the museums with the flown orbiters also will create fantastic exhibits.

Charles Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden emerges from the hatch of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer, now on exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, during a tour Jan. 15, 2013. Every shuttle astronaut used that hatch and trained in the FFT. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“The one in Los Angeles already looks great, and the building they’re eventually going to put it in will be spectacular,” he said. “We’ll encourage everybody to go see it, then come here and go inside.”

Bolden flew on four shuttle missions and spent countless hours training in the FFT, so for him the museum’s exhibit brings on fond memories, and some painful ones. He joked about using the trainer to practice emergency escapes from the shuttle, and said every astronaut had just one thought in mind during the exercises.

“Do not fall off the rope. You don’t want to look bad,” he laughed, noting that there were always cameras recording the training. “You did not want to be memorialized as one who slipped and fell and looked like an idiot laying down there on the mat.”

The FFT is a most interesting exhibit. Go walk in the footsteps of the astronauts and check it out at the Museum of Flight. Watch the slideshow below for a preview, and for more scenes from Bolden’s visit!

 

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