News: NASA Testing Vintage Engine From Apollo 11 Rocket

Like vinyl records and skinny ties, good things eventually come back around. At NASA, that means looking to the Apollo program for ideas on how to develop the next generation of rockets for future missions to the moon and beyond.

The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was supposed to help propel Apollo 11 into orbit in 1969, when NASA sent Neil Armstrong and two other astronauts to the moon for the first time. The flight went off without a hitch, but no thanks to the engine, where it sat for years.

Nick Case and other engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Thursday completed a series of 11 test-firings of the F-6049's gas generator, a jet like rocket which produces 30,000 pounds of thrust and was used as a starter for the engine. They are trying to see whether a second generation version of the Apollo engine could produce even more thrust and be operated with a throttle for deep-space exploration.

Thursday's test used one part of the engine, the gas generator, which powers the machinery to pump propellant into the main rocket chamber. It doesn't produce the massive orange flame or clouds of smoke like that of a whole F-1, but the sound was deafening as engineers fired the mechanism in an outdoor test stand on a cool, sunny afternoon.

The device produced a plume that resembled a blow torch the size of two buses and set fire to a grassy area, which was quickly extinguished. And just like during the Apollo days, people in north Alabama heard rockets thundering in the distance during tests at Marshall.

Case started at Marshall as a high school intern in 2002 and has been working there since graduating from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2008. He said today's technology allows things that weren't possible during the 1960s, but he has been impressed by what he learned taking apart the unused Apollo 11 engine.