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A giant leap for space nerds everywhere?

The test laboratory of the Marshall Space Flight Center tested the F-1 engine. (NASA/MSFC)

Call it one pretty cool underwater step for man, one giant leap for space nerds everywhere.

How else to describe the amazing visuals making the rounds today of a cluster of twisted, burnt-out Apollo rocket engines recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean during a three-week expedition led by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

The startling images adorn a Bezos blog post filed fresh from the deck of the Seabed Worker, which was headed back to Cape Canaveral after gathering up a nest of F-1 Saturn V rocket engines that lifted the Apollo missions to space during the 1960s and '70s.

"We found so much," writes Bezos. "We found an underwater wonderland -- an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tell the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program.

"We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and now have recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible."

The team used a fleet of Remotely Operated Vehicles in the recovery effort, tethered by fibre optics and power cables pulsing more than 4,000 volts to depths of nearly 5 kms. Bezos said the team was struck by the "poetic echoes of the lunar missions" insofar as the apparatus operated in darkness and near weightlessness as it descended.

"The blackness of the horizon. The gray and colourless ocean floor. Only the occasional deep-sea fish broke the illusion," Bezos writes.

The Bezos team doesn't know quite yet what it has, but NASA is expected to help piece together the precise provenance of the antique spaceware, which is eventually expected to placed on public display.

Said NASA Administrator Charles Boden: "This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites



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