NASA uses vintage Apollo 11 engine to test for the future


An old Saturn V rocket engine shoots a gout of flame during a test firing on Thursday, in Huntsville, AB.

We all keep old mementos of our past, to remind us of our accomplishments, but NASA is going one step further, to actually use a piece from its collection to inspire future endeavors.

The memento in question is an engine that was originally slated to be one of five engines that would help launch astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The F-1 Saturn V engine, called 'No. F-6049' by NASA engineers, was cut from the mission after a glitch on the test platform, and has sat at the Smithsonian Institute for years.

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Pulling the engine out of retirement, the NASA team ran a series of test-firings on its gas generator — essentially a jet engine that acts as the rocket engine's starter, which can generate up to 30,000 pounds of thrust. These firings produced a gout of flames the length of two schoolbuses, setting a nearby grass area on fire (which was quickly extinguished), and could be heard across the surrounding countryside.

"My wife and daughter were in our front yard and she said they could hear it, which was pretty cool," said Nick Case, one of the NASA engineers performing the tests. "We live about 15 miles [nearly 25 kilometres] away."

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The tests will give them an idea if the old design concepts can be adapted to current and future spaceflight efforts, including deep-space exploration.

"This wouldn't be your daddy's F-1. We'd use new materials and try to simplify it, update it," said R. H. Coates, another of the NASA engineering team, however he was quick to praise his predecessors.

"It is really an excellent booster. The guys in Apollo had it right."

(Photo courtesy Canadian Press)

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