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NASA fires historic F-1 engine as it researches building the rocket of the future

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NASA F-1 rocket engine
NASA F-1 rocket engine

As NASA researches the best (and most cost effective) ways to someday launch humans beyond low-Earth orbit once again, it's looking back at its storied history for clues. Recently a team of young engineers got the rare opportunity to disassemble the F-1 — NASA's most powerful rocket engine — analyze its components, and refurbish the engine anew. Despite the fact that it was completed way back in the 1950s, the F-1 remains the most powerful rocket engine ever assembled by the United States. Five F-1 engines propelled NASA's Saturn V rocket to the skies throughout the Apollo program. The young generation of engineers were also able to reassemble and fire its gas generator, experiencing 31,000 pounds of thrust firsthand. The engine is in fact capable of producing even greater power, as it routinely reached 1.5 million pounds during missions.

As for why NASA is digging out its old relics, the agency is investigating the best approach to building engines for its Space Launch System — the next-generation rocket that could one day carry astronauts to Mars and beyond. "NASA’s young engineers are gaining valuable knowledge working with one of the most powerful engines ever built, and the SLS program will benefit from data that will bolster our efforts to reduce risk and enhance the affordability as we develop an advanced heavy-lift booster capable of a variety of missions," said Chris Crumbly, who manages the SLS Advanced Development Office.