Even Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos got misty-eyed at Seattle’s Museum of Flight during today’s unveiling of rocket engine parts from the Apollo moonshots.
“I always do,” he told GeekWire afterward.
It’s not just the fact that Bezos has been a space fan since the age of 5. He funded the Bezos Expeditions voyage that recovered hundreds of parts from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 14,000 feet down – and he was aboard the ship when the mangled 40-year-old parts were brought up from the deep in 2013.
It was Bezos who asked NASA to let some of the artifacts go on exhibit in his hometown museum. This summer, the space agency gave its OK. So Bezos was all smiles when he showed off some of the shrink-wrapped remains from the Saturn V rockets that sent Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 to the moon.
“It’s not really about the past … it’s about today, and it’s about the future,” Bezos said at the unveiling. He said he hoped the museum’s exhibit would inspire a new generation to take on Apollo-scale challenges in science and engineering.
A different assortment of recovered parts, including pieces from the Apollo 11 mission’s F-1 rocket engines, will go on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Bezos’ team used remote-operated, camera-equipped submersibles to find and recover the parts on the Atlantic seafloor, in a patch where the first stages from multiple Saturn V rockets settled after falling from the sky. The shrink-wrapped pieces that were brought out for today’s ceremony included an injector plate, oxidizer dome and thrust chamber from one of the F-1 engines on Apollo 12’s Saturn V. Museum workers also opened the lid on a crate containing a heat exchanger from an F-1 used for Apollo 16.
The ceremony came on the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 12 moon landing, and was conducted for the benefit of VIPs, media representatives and visiting students from Raisbeck Aviation High School. But the wider public will soon get a peek at the goods as well.
The 3-foot-wide, rust-covered injector plate will go on view starting Saturday as a preview of the full exhibit. That preview will end on Jan. 4. Then the museum will get all the parts ready to go on display in 2017 as the centerpiece of a new permanent Apollo exhibit. In addition to the engine parts, the new exhibit will show off other Apollo artifacts, including moon rocks and items that trace the career of Apollo 12 moonwalker Pete Conrad.
Geoff Nunn, the museum’s adjunct curator for space history, said a full-scale mockup of the 18.5-foot-tall F-1 engine would be put on display as well.
The delivery from the Kansas Cosmosphere, where the engine parts were preserved, included crates that contained hundreds of tiny bits from the ruined engines. “We received more than we knew we were getting,” Nunn told GeekWire.
Although Bezos is best-known for founding Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, he has also had a long-running interest in space exploration. That interest is reflected in his Blue Origin space venture as well as in Bezos Expeditions’ F-1 engine recovery effort.
“When I was 5 years old, I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, and it imprinted me with a passion for science and exploration – it’s my hope that these engines might spark a similar passion in a child who sees them today,” Bezos said in a statement released before the unveiling.
That sentiment was seconded in statements from Doug King, the museum’s president and CEO, and from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
King said the Apollo program “fired the imagination of young people who are now today’s leaders in the second great era of space exploration,” and he hoped the Seattle exhibit would similarly inspire the next generation to explore other worlds.
Bolden had Mars in mind. “Exhibiting these historic engines not only shares NASA’s storied history, it also helps America educate to innovate,” he said. “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.”
NASA’s current timetable calls for sending astronauts to Mars and its moons beginning in the 2030s – seven decades after the Apollo moonshots. And judging by the reaction from the high school students in attendance, the exhibit should have the eye-misting, history-making effect that Bezos was looking for.
“Our generation will send people to Mars,” sophomore Eleanor Pahl told GeekWire afterward. Her classmate, Brynne Hunt, put it in even more personal terms: “I’m going to Mars!”
Check back in 20 or 30 years, and let’s see what dreams may come.