Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama performed a series of tests on a 40-year-old rocket engine known as No. 6049 on Thursday. Initially, the jet-like rocket's purpose was to be used to help propel spaceflight Apollo 11 in 1969 for the first moon landing. The engine was grounded and remained at the Smithsonian Institution after a glitch occurred during a test performed in Mississippi.
The 11 test firings completed will help engineers determine if a second generation model of the rocket could produce more than the 30,000 pounds thrust it already has. The engine would be operated with a throttle to allow for deep space exploration. Engineers are now learning to work with the older system models and propellants that were developed prior to 1981.
Five of the 18 foot tall motors, known to NASA as F-1 engines are typically arranged at the base of rockets. For moon missions that occurred during the 1960's and 1970's, the motors were fired simultaneously to propel the powerful Saturn V rocket off the ground. With a fuel made of the components of liquid oxygen and refined kerosene, just one F-1 engine can produce 1.5 million pounds of thrust.
The tests on Thursday only used gas generator portion of the engine and did not produce orange flames or smoke clouds normally seen on the F-1 engines. A blow torch like puff was emitted and the loud sound of the engine was heard across acres. Engineer Nick Case said, "My wife and daughter were in our front yard and she said they could hear it, which was pretty cool. We live about 15 miles away."
Currently, there are no plans just yet to send the vintage engine into space, but the No. 6049's design may be incorporated into a more updated version. An Engineer who works with Case, R.H Coates said, "This wouldn't be your daddy's F-1. We'd use new materials and try to simplify it, update it." NASA officials plan to incorporate the useful technology from the Apollo program for future space missions expected to commence by the year 2020.