The Mission to Find the Missing Lunar Module

Article written: 19 Sep , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Where is the Apollo 10 Lunar lander module? It’s somewhere out there — orbiting the Sun — and there’s a new initiative to try and find it!

The Apollo 10 mission launched on May 18, 1968 and was a manned “dry run” for its successor Apollo 11, testing all of the procedures and components of a Moon landing without actually landing on the Moon itself.

After carrying out a successful lunar orbit and docking procedure, the Lunar Module (called “Snoopy”) was jettisoned and sent into an orbit around the Sun.

After 42 years, it’s believed to still be in a heliocentric orbit and a team of UK and international astronomers working with schools are going to try and find it.

The idea is the brainchild of British amateur astronomer Nick Howes who helped coordinate a very successful asteroid and comet project with schools and Faulkes Telescope during this past summer.

After consulting with people from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and other orbital dynamics experts, the Howes has assembled a team of facilities and experts, including the Faulkes Telescope, Space Exploration Engineering Corp, astronomers from the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy and schools across the UK.

They know they have a massive undertaking ahead of them to find Snoopy.

“The key problem which we are taking on is a lack of solid orbital data since 1969,” Howes told Universe Today. “We’ve enlisted the help of the Space Exploration Engineering Corp who have calculated orbits for Apollo 10 and working closely with people who were on the Apollo mission team in the era will help us identify search coordinate regions.”

“We’re expecting a search arc anywhere up to 135 million kilometres in size which is a huge amount of space to look at, ” Howes continued. “We’re aware of the scale and magnitude of this challenge but to have the twin Faulkes scopes assist the hunt, along with schools, plus the fact that we’ll doubtless turn up many new finds such as comets and asteroids makes this a great science project too. We’re also encouraging anyone to have a go as we’ll be posting the coordinates on to the Faulkes Telescope website starting in a few days”

While the challenge ahead of Howes and the team is enormous, and the chances of the team finding Snoopy are very small, the team are enthusing thousands of people with their own “Apollo Mission” – the mission to find the missing Apollo Lunar module.

Credit: Faulkes Telescope

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15 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    Oh so awesome. This just reminded me of a SF story “Recovering Apollo 8”
    by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. If the Apollo 10 LM is discovered, will some private enterprise company attempt to recover it?

    • Ted Judah says

      Snoopy can’t be recovered to Earth because it has no means of entering the atmosphere. If they do find it, they should figure out a way to dock it to the ISS. Now that would be something!

      • Danny Nye says

        Do you have any idea what it would take in fuel to recover that hardware?

      • Would depend on its orbit, how close it passed by Earth/Luna. In Rusch’s SF story, Snoopy would be captured and brought in a cargo bay. Might be parked near the ISS and researched: materials science, micrometeorites, solar particles, etc..

  2. peter morley says

    why did’not NASA leave Apollo near the Moon as a back up module ?

    • Danny Nye says

      That was back in the days before cheap construction. The LMs were reliable. I doubt Snoopy was carrying a scientific payload.

    • Jon says

      Orbits around the moon are not long-term stable. It would have crashed into the moon within a couple of months.

  3. Anonymous says

    This is curious example of space archeology. The Apollo 10 LM did not make it to the lunar surface, but only came within a few kilometers of the lunar surface. The descent stage impacted the moon and the ascent stage then made it back to the CM. What is funny is that in checking this out the ascent module was not given sufficient fuel to make it back to the CM if the crew had landed on the moon. Yet somehow it had enough fuel to be sent out of the gravity well of the Earth-moon system.

    This is of course a funny subject, and one which seems marginally worth astronomical resources. However, it might be worth while as an exercise in what I might call orbital forensics, which is to deduce the orbital parameters of an object based on limited data. This LM can’t be too far from the orbital radius of the Earth. It might though be in a hunter-chaser or horseshoe orbit.

    The LM will not be recovered if it is found. The docking mechanism probably does not function, and it is unlikely space resources will be devoted to such an effort. Besides, it is more likely to remain a human artifact in space in the orbit it is on. If it were brought to the ISS, then it will go down with the ISS in the 2020s when that is decommissioned and sent into the deorbit into the atmosphere.

    LC

  4. Stan Taylor says

    Finding it would be an amazing feat; retrieving it would be a job for future generations. See “Planetes” or “Salvage One” (The latter is an old one, I know, but still far beyond the technology we have available.)

  5. Jeff says

    I think this is a cool mission but i’m left to wonder, why Apollo 10? ALL of the Lunar Modules were jettisoned while the astronauts landed in the capsule of the Command Module. Why is Apollo 10 different from those?

  6. Adrian says

    small typo: “The Apollo 10 mission launched on May 18, 1968.. ”
    it was 1969 🙂

    i hope they will find Snoopy, and if not, maybe at least some cool asteroids or a comet

  7. Noah Gabriel says

    nobody went to the moon

  8. Member
    Anonymous says

    SciFi short story subject? Late in the 21st century, a wealthy collector of early space artifacts hires a space salvage crew to retrieve ‘Snoopy’ for his collection. Upon finding the module and returning it to Earth, it is determined that somehow, all the gold used in the circuit board connectors and all the other rare earth materials/metals have been removed… down to the last atom.

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