The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was built to blast the first US lunar mission into Earth’s orbit.
While the mission went off with no problems, the engine never made it. Fox News reports that instead, it was grounded because ofa glitch during a test in Mississippi.
It was later sent to the Smithsonian Institute, where it sat for several years. But 40 years after it was retired, it is now rumbling across the Southern landscape.
Engineers who weren’t even alive with Apollo 11 blasted Neil Armstrong into space, are using the bell-shaped motor in tests to determine if any technology from the reliable Saturn V design can be improved for use in next-generation shuttle craft.
In doing so, they are learning how to use technical systems and propellants that haven’t been used since before the space shuttle program launched in 1981.
The Huffington Post notes that engineers are looking to create the Space Launch System — the next generation of heavy-life rockets. Even four decades after they were used last, the F-1 rocket system is still the most powerful single-chamber liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed.
Kate Estes, a NASA liquid propulsion systems engineer, stated in a NASA agency release:
“Being able to hold the parts of this massive engine that once took us to the moon, restoring it, and then seeing it come back to life through hot firings and test data has been an amazing experience.”
The scientists have put the No. F-6049 rocket through several tests, including a 20-second hot fire on January 10. The hot-fire tests were conducted on the Marshall’s Space Flight Center’s East Test Area Test Stand 116. Ryan Wall, a test conductor, stated:
“We modified the test stand to accommodate a single kerosene gas generator component. These tests demonstrate the stand’s new capabilities, which will be beneficial for future NASA and industry propulsion activities.”
There are still about a dozen F-1 engines in Hunstville, Alabama, the home of NASA’s main propulsion center. Others are located elsewhere and most are on display. Engineers decided to use No. F-6049 because it is the most complete of them. A total of 85 F-1 engines were used during 17 Apollo flights. None of them failed.