NASA testing vintage engine from Apollo 11 rocket

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.

'It's not small,' Case said. "It's pretty beefy on its own.''

And just like during the Apollo days, people in north Alabama heard rockets thundering in the distance during tests at Marshall.

'My wife and daughter were in our front yard and she said they could hear it, which was pretty cool,'' Case said after an earlier test. "We live about 15 miles away.''

A single F-1 engine can produce 1.5 million pounds (0.68 million kilograms) of thrust using a fuel composed of liquid oxygen and refined kerosene, which was not used in the space shuttle.

The tests were conducted at Marshall in a project conducted with Dynetics Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which are studying NASA's possibilities for deep-space missions years from now. The space agency plans to use commercial launches to reach low Earth orbit; larger rockets are required to escape the planet's gravity.

R.H. Coates, an engineer who works with Case in Marshall's liquid propulsion office, said young engineers can learn a lot from the work done by predecessors using slide-rules in the 1960s, but no one wants to simply rebuild the old Saturn V engine.

"This wouldn't be your daddy's F-1," Coates said. We'd use new materials and try to simplify it, update it.''

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.

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