At the base of the rocket, five F-1 engines provided the lift to help Saturn break gravity's grip. But after less than three minutes of burn, the "first stage" S-IC was jettisoned, sending the F-1 engines hurtling back towards earth, where they landed in the ocean.
There they remained for the next 44 years, until Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com CEO and founder of the Blue Origin aerospace company went looking for the long lost engines.
Using remote vehicles more than 14,000 feet under the sea, Bezos's team has recovered enough from the "incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines" to re-build two for display.
"The upcoming restoration will stabilize the hardware and prevent further corrosion," Bezos wrote in announcing the recovery. "We want the hardware to tell its true story, including its 5,000 mile per hour re-entry and subsequent impact with the ocean surface."
The F-1 engines remain the most powerful liquid-fueled rocket engine ever developed, with a load lift of 1.5 million pounds of thrust each. By comparison, just one of the F-1 engines had more power than three space shuttle main engines.
And they're enormous: each of the five engines stood 19 feet tall, 12 feet wide and weighed in at more than 18,000 pounds.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden expressed his excitement at the recovery of the F-1s in a statement released Wednesday.
"This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit," Bolden said.
Bezos and his team at Blue Origin will team up with NASA to restore the engines for public display.
The F-1 rocket engine was developed by Rocketdyne for the Air Force in Southern California in 1955, and was inherited by the space agency after NASA was formed in 1960.