Mar 082013

Here’s a question: let’s say you were wandering around the bottom of the Atlantic ocean and you stumbled across the remains of an F-1 rocket engine. Assume that it has serial numbers  and whatnot on it. How would you know which Saturn V flight it came from? Is there some master list of All The Bits somewhere?

 Posted by at 10:40 am
  • heroicrelics

    Saturn lists all of the Saturn engine serial numbers and the positions in which they were mounted on their respective stages.

    • I would think that the individual build logs for the engines are also archived somewhere, and if only bits and pieces are found, then they could be identified. Also, all Saturn V first stage impact points (approximate) are known, so there is a way to identify the mission that way too.

      • heroicrelics

        I’m sure that every component on each engine was recorded in its logbook.

        I’ve seen a left-over bolt from an F-1 engine: It had a tag on it with the serial (or perhaps batch?) and part numbers, attached to a brown paper envelope with the serial and part numbers. Inside that, the bolt was in a plastic bag which was divided into two sections. The bottom section had another plastic bag, which contained the actual bolt (which was sheathed in a plastic thread protector), and the top section of the outer plastic bag had another tag with the bolt’s part and serial number.

        All this for one bolt!

        It’s been said that the Saturn V couldn’t be launched until the paperwork weighed more than it did. I’ve also heard (unconfirmed) stories that, after the program ended, Grumman got rid of this type of paperwork for the LM, as the paperwork for each LM was about the size of a railroad freight car and they couldn’t afford to archive it forever.

        So, the question is, do the F-1 logbooks still exist?

        I know Saturn’s author, Alan Lawrie, and I collaborated with him on the second edition (although I get no royalties — just an autographed copy of the book). He’s got an appendix listing the current locations of the remaining F-1 and J-2 engines, along with their serial numbers. Since he lives in England and I live in the States and had visited most of these engines already, I was able to help him out.

        For some of the engines, I didn’t have photos of the ID plates with the overall engine serial number, but did have ID plates from major components. He was unable to tie a component serial to an engine serial, although I don’t know if that indicates that the appropriate log books no longer exist, he was unable to locate them, or he couldn’t afford to photocopy them 🙂

  • publiusr

    I wonder if the folks at Dynetics might have some answers too.

  • Chris Jones

    I hope Jeff Bezos knows the answer to this question. According to his blog (see, they’ve recovered enough F-1 pieces from the Atlantic to build two F-1s.

  • Jason Knight

    This is cool, my brother is a rocket engineer, and i was wondering how rocket serial plates work. if you could let me know, that would be cool, Thanks!