The year was 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the Moon’s surface. The iconic Apollo 11 mission has been a historic event. But what’s perhaps not so well known is that another lunar mission took place on May 18th of that selfsame year, paving the way for the Moon landing. Meet the Apollo 10.
(And in case you’re wondering – the number sequence is not casual. Without Apollo 10‘s contribution, there’d have been no Moon landing as we know it.)
Apollo 10‘s purpose was both to chart the course and oversee Armstrong and Aldrin‘s mission.
The spacecraft has to get as close as possible to the moon’s surface and ensure the lack of emergencies or last-minute setbacks. The fateful words “Houston, we have a problem” were never meant to jeopardize the US’s greatest space success two months later.
By all means and purposes Apollo 10 served as a “test run” for that small step for a man that would become legend.
Apollo 10 and its crew
As we’ve seen, Apollo 10 was meant to get as close as posible to the Moon’s surface but without actually touching it.
The crew was selected among NASA veterans; the choice fell on Eugene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford.
The three spacemen would go over every phase of Armstrong and Aldrin’s Moon-landing mission scheduled for July – minus the actual landing. Their task was to ensure that there were no setbacks and that all the equipment and tools were fully functional and under control.
In a mission of worldscale importance, such as the Apollo 11’s, nothing could go wrong and nothing could be left to chance. Hence the need for a simulated Moon’s landing, a few months prior to the actual thing.
The orders were clear. As close as the spacemen could get to the Moon, they were forbidden to land, for no reason.
That honor was to be exclusively Armstrong’s, when the world’s eyes would be all set on the Moon.
Still, it was in no small part Young, Stafford and Cernan‘s merit if Man could actually get safely on the Moon.
When ‘Snoopy’ got close to the Moon
Apollo 10 took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force.
Just like Apollo 11, the spacecrafts consisted of two modules – a lunar lander and Control Module.
The lander was nicknamed Snoopy, after the famous hero of the Peanuts strips. The fictional Snoopy thus became Apollo 10’s mascot.
The Command Module, which was controlled by Young, was nicknamed Charlie Brown, after Snoopy’s owner.
Stafford and Cernan took control of the lander and detached it from the bulk. ‘Snoopy’ thus got as close as 8,4 nautical miles (about 15 km) from the surface. The spacemen also tested the landing radar that would have safely allowed Armstrong to land.
From 15 kms onward the landing procedures would begin and Armstrong would have to rely solely on the rover simulations of earlier lunar missions.
Stafford and Cernan‘s enthusiasm over Apollo 10‘s successful mission was described as unfathomable. “Here comes the Earth“, Cernan reported. “Beautiful. I tell you, babe, we’s getting down among dem”, he stated, bidding goodbye to the Moon.
Which never before had appeared so close to man’s reach.
Apollo 10, the (un)veiled mysteries
There is a fair amount of mysteries and legends surrounding Apollo 10’s mission.
One of the longest-running is perhaps the mystery of the strange space sounds recorded by NASA’s machinery during the transmissions.
Apollo 11 hovered for the best part of a hour on the so-called “dark side of the Moon”, where there was no signal and no chance to contact Earth. For this time frame, the crew was essentially left to fend for themselves.
Yet the NASA recorded.
A “mystery” that has been the subject of much speculation for about fifty years. Nowadays the most influential sources claim that the sound phenomenon was caused by an interference between the lunar lander Snoopy and the Control Module CHarlie Brown.
However, this explanation is anything but satisfying for the lovers of mysteries and conspiracies.
NASA celebrates the fifty years of Apollo 10
It’s been fifty years since. Stafford, Cernan e Young have never lived up to Armstrong’s fame, but they’re to be thanked if the Moon’s landing could safely take place. The NASA has celebrated them in the course of a ceremony for Apollo 10’s fiftieth anniversary.
The Peanuts, of course, were involved in the celebrations. Charles Schulz‘s comic strip characters are renown worldwide as mascots of space security.
NASA even assigns the Silver Snoopy to the employees who accomplish outstanding successes in in ensuring the safety of spacemen and spacecrafts alike.
And to celebrate Apollo 10’s fifty years, the short “Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10” aired on US televisions on May 18th.
Houston’s space center also took part to the celebrations. NASA’s next goal is a new Moon’s landing, scheduled for 2024. It promises to be another unforgettable event, and preparations are heavily underway.
This post is also available in: Italiano