Apollo 11 leaves for the moon, July 16, 1969. AFP/Getty Images
"Eleven, ten, nine, ignition sequence start. …"
It remains as one of the defining events of the last century: Apollo 11, on a pillar of fire from its five F-1 rocket engines, leaving for the moon in July 1969.
"… Three, two, one - all engines running - and liftoff on Apollo 11…."
The Saturn V booster generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The rocket lumbered into the sky. Two minutes later, as scheduled, its first stage dropped off and went tumbling into the Atlantic.
Among the hundreds of millions of people affected by Apollo 11 was a 5-year-old boy named Jeff Bezos - yes, the Jeff Bezos who grew up to found Amazon.com, one of the Internet's great success stories.
Now, he says, an expedition he funded has found the five booster engines with sonar lying in 14,000 feet of water off the Florida coast. He'd like to bring them back up, he says in a blog post; they belong in a museum.
"We don't know yet what condition these engines might be in - they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years," Bezos writes. "On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see."
Bezos, who went to Wall Street before starting Amazon, remained, all the while, a space enthusiast. With Amazon humming along, he used some of his profits to start a company called Blue Origin. He's said very little about it, but it is one of the many companies competing to bring the efficiencies of private enterprise to space travel, "so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system."
Amazon and Blue Origin may be hard-headed businesses, but Bezos admitted to sentimentality in his effort to recover the booster engines of Apollo 11.
"NASA is one of the few institutions I know that can inspire 5-year-olds," he wrote. "It sure inspired me, and with this endeavor, maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore."
- Jeff Bezos