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Thrust chamber
The thrust chamber from an Apollo / Saturn V F-1 rocket engine sits on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, awaiting recovery. (Credit: Bezos Expeditions)

Experts are wrapping up their conservation work on the decades-old Saturn V rocket engine parts that were recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to an effort backed by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. Now Seattle’s Museum of Flight is preparing to put artifacts from the Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 moonshots on display next year.

“It’s going to be breathtaking,” Dan Hagedorn, the museum’s curator and director of collections, told GeekWire.

NASA isn’t quite finished with the paperwork, Hagedorn said. But the plan is solid enough to make arrangements for shipping more than a dozen artifacts up to Seattle from the Cosmosphere International SciEd Center and Space Museum in Kansas, where preservation experts have been working on them for more than two years.

Hagedorn said the F-1 engine parts include two thrust chambers from Apollo 12, which was launched to the moon in 1969; and a heat exchanger from Apollo 16, launched in 1972. In each case, the engines and the rest of the Saturn V’s first stage were jettisoned shortly after liftoff, and they were badly mangled when they hit the Atlantic. Conservators at the Cosmosphere decided against trying to restore the components to launch condition. Instead, they cleaned them up and stabilized them as they were.

Heat exchanger
A mangled heat exchanger from an Apollo-era Saturn V F-1 rocket engine is brought aboard deck during the Bezos-backed recovery effort in 2013. (Credit: Bezos Expeditions)

“We do want to give folks a sense of ‘this is what they looked like when they were found,'” Hagedorn said. A full-size replica of the 19-foot-tall F-1 rocket engine will be included in the exhibit to add a sense of scale, he said.

The recovery of the Apollo-era rocket engine components – including parts traced to Apollo 11, humanity’s first moon landing in 1969 – fulfilled one of Bezos’ long-held space dreams. The effort preserved what Bezos called “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.”

Even though Amazon.com’s founder funded the salvage effort through his personal Bezos Expeditions venture, the engines remain the property of NASA. Under an agreement with the space agency, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum will display the Apollo 11 artifacts in a “Destination Moon” gallery that’s due to open in 2020, according to CollectSpace.com.

Bezos hoped that his hometown museum would get second pick, and NASA obliged.

The plan calls for the artifacts to arrive in Seattle by the end of this year, and go on display sometime during the Boeing Co.’s centennial year. But Hagedorn emphasized that the timing of the exhibit’s opening won’t be strictly tied to the centennial.

“We want to make it such a wonderful opening that it will have a significance of its own,” he said.

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