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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#201 - David Concannon - F1 Salvor

This week Julio Aprea (ESA) helps me as Co-Host and we have a long chat with David Concannon the man behind the recovery of the Apollo 11 rocket engines from the seafloor.

Out yonder, there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation…



On this Day

September 4th 1958 – Jacqueline Hewitt, American astrophysicist and astronomer was born

While analyzing the data from her graduate studies, she found a ring on her computer screen, the very first Einstein ring discovered. Since this, they are found to be far more common than astronomers thought. Hundreds of gravitational lenses are currently known, but how many can be considered Einstein Rings?



Arianespace Vega Launches 53 Satellites in Rideshare Demonstration Mission


Space Word of the week: Einstein Ring

Known as an Einstein–Chwolson ring or Chwolson ring, they are created when light from a galaxy or star passes by a massive object en route to the Earth.

Einstein predicted bending of light by gravity in 1912, four years before his GR paper. It took another 12 years before the Halo ring effect was first mentioned in the academic literature by Orest Khvolson in a short article in 1924, It then took another 12 years for Einstein to take notice of this article, prompted by a Czech engineer.

“Of course, there is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly. First, we shall scarcely ever approach closely enough to such a central line. Second, the angle β will defy the resolving power of our instruments”

He was only thinking about stars being lensed though, Amazingly there is a 45% chance of this happening in early May 2028 when Alpha Centauri A passes between us and a distant red star, less than a hundred years after Einstein said it was impossible.

The first Einstein ring was discovered by Hewitt et al. (1988) using the Very Large Array. This observation saw a quasar lensed by a nearer galaxy into two separate but very similar images of the same object, the images stretched around the lens into an almost complete ring.

The first complete Einstein ring was discovered by astronomers at the University of Manchester and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope 10 years later in 1998


Space Legend of the Week

Lee Solid - 'the engine guy'

Born circa 1936 South Dakota eldest son on his family farm, the same era as Ken Mattingley, a year or two younger than Neil Armstrong.

Has watched pretty much every major launch ever, first launch 2oth may 1960 Atlas ACBM. At the Apollo 11 Launch, he was the base manager for Rocketdyne (division of Rockwell) briefing Von Braun, he had helped to build the 5 x F1 engines on the first stage. The five J2s on the second stage. the single J2 on the third stage, the ascent engine on the lunar module, the scary one that has one chance to lift off of the moon. Overall about 33 engines on a full-stack Saturn V. They had engines on everything that flew, which meant Lee Solid was involved in every program of the American space era. As a member of the Atlas-Mercury and Apollo-Saturn launch teams that put the first American (John Glenn) into Earth orbit in 1962 and the first man (Neil Armstrong) on the moon in 1969. Launching the first Space Shuttle, with its fully reusable Orbiter and SSMEs in 1981

He told the Chicago tribune

"I can't tell you exactly what was going through my mind during the launch of Apollo 11. But all those F1s worked perfectly in flight. We all felt a sense of pride." “ the greatest engineering feat by mortal man”

He has been recognized by numerous NASA and Aerospace awards. Included are 3 Public Service medals, one for Apollo and two for the Space Shuttle. He also received the prestigious Debus award for Aerospace Excellence, the ASME’s Engineering Achievement Award, the NMA’s Gold Knight Award for management, the JA’s Spirit of Achievement Award and a number of others.

He considers the biggest engineering problem of the F1, combustion instability, a sonic wave moving across the 3ft injector and destroying it. They solved this problem by analysing explosions in the combustion chamber, and this data essentially solved this problem for all rocket makers including the Russians, and Bell who was having the same nightmare with their small ascent engine, so Nasa gave the contract to Rocketdyne to finish the engine off.

He became the vice president and General manager of Rockwell.

He retired in 1998, He is still actively involved in space on the board of American Space Museum and more.

Lee met his wife Shirley as high school sweethearts as farm kids in western South Dakota. He went to college on a basketball scholarship thinking he was going to become a farmer, and was injured and got interested in Engineering and got his degree in 1958 from South Dakota school of mines and technology

He tried out Architecture, but while standing in the snow got a call from the Californian based Rocketdyne, they like other companies of that type liked the midwesterners who grew up on farms, with a special responsibility and mental toughness.

Lee Solid favourite Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25, the first reusable rocket engine. Lee was involved in the design of this incredibly intricate and sophisticated piece of engineering. With huge chamber pressures requiring new materials. 135 flights no failure, and the whole idea was they designed not to end up on the ocean floor. They will be used on the SLS and will end up ...on the ocean floor.

Interestingly he says that the rocket tech of today hasn’t changed much since his day, in fact, he can see every piece of heritage in a merlin engine with nothing new really in there and says that Musks initial problems with Falcon 1 were all problems they had had and overcame. But Musk realised and changed the way he worked.

He doesn’t think that the RS-25 can be improved upon without going nuclear or some radical departure like that. (Lee Solid worked on the Minerva nuclear engine)

He has four children and 16 grandchildren


David Concannon

First approached by Bezos team in August 2010, now at the 10 year anniversary of this occasion, we thought it a good moment to relive this adventure.

David has sailed the Beagle Channel climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, dived to 16,000 feet deep in the Bermuda Triangle, recovered artefacts from the Titanic, and led the expeditions that found and recovered the F-1 engines that launched men to the moon.

Bezos Explorations


Salvage in space!

Well in the interview we hear that Salvage at sea you get a reward if you are successful, you never own the salvaged property, unless the original owner doesn’t claim it. But they have to pay your expenses and give you some adequate reward. Based on the Roman way of doing things if you come to someone’s aid and they didn’t ask you to you can’t demand a reward, and this is a sort of quasi-contract. It probably going to be a similar situation in space.

You can have a pre-arranged Contract Salvage, where you get a fee regardless of success.

However, what about and oil tanker, you can set out to stop the ecological disaster and obviously not rescue the oil or the ship, and get nothing for your troubles? A 1989 Convention tackles this with an enhanced salvage award, expenses plus 30%, for salvors in preventing or minimising damage to the environment. So can this be applied to space junk a “special compensation” to be paid to salvors who have failed to earn a reward in the normal way (by salving a space ship and cargo).

Might we see people going up and cleaning up debris or even retrieving satellites form the 50’s or parts of Apollo or Hubble etc?

Apparently not, it looks like the outer space treaty essentially treats all space objects as if they are still under the jurisdiction of the country that launched them FOREVER, regardless of condition, a bit like a sunken warship, you can’t just go and salvage that unless it is “expressly abandoned”, The effect of this continued ownership and jurisdiction means the concept of maritime salvage doesn’t wash in outer space. And without a subtle change to conventions, you can’t even use a contracted salvage.

If a satellite crashes into your country if you have signed up to the Outerspace object, you are obliged to return it to the country of origin.

Gus Grisom’s sunken Liberty Bell 7 was an object that went into outer space and was salvaged by the discovery channel on the 3oth anniversary of Apollo 11, but with a contract salvage agreement. But at the moment no one can actually authorise you to go to space to do contract salvage yet.

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