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  • Writer's pictureAeryn Avilla

Snooping Around: 10 Fun Facts About Apollo 10

Updated: Jul 9

On May 18, 2024, we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 10, the fourth manned flight of the Apollo program. The mission tested the Lunar Module in lunar orbit prior to the Apollo 11 landing. The mission's commander was Tom Stafford, veteran of Gemini 6 and Gemini 9A. Command module pilot was John Young, veteran of Gemini 3 and Gemini 10. Gene Cernan, veteran of Gemini 9A, was the lunar module pilot. Let's look at ten fun facts about Apollo 10!


The Apollo 10 crew in front of a Saturn V rocket

LMP Cernan, CMP Young, and CDR Stafford with Saturn V (NASA)


1. The First Lunar Landing?

George Mueller, the head of the Manned Space Flight Office, favored Apollo 10 actually landing on the moon. He and other supporters believed this would move the Apollo program forward at a quicker pace and that it was a waste to bring astronauts so close to the lunar surface only to not land. However, Apollo 10's lunar module would not be capable of returning to orbit after landing— it was loaded with only half the amount of fuel and oxidizer it would need for a full landing, liftoff, and rendezvous with the CSM. Additionally, the software needed to guide the LM to its landing site was still being developed, and the agency did not yet have adequate information about the moon's mass concentrations.


George Mueller and Director of the Apollo Program Sam Phillips

George Mueller and Sam Phillips, Director of the Apollo Program, in Mission Control (NASA)


2. Veterans Only

Apollo 10 was the first space crew that did not include a rookie astronaut [1]. John Young was the first member of the second group of astronauts, the New Nine, to fly in space, first as the pilot of Gemini 3 in 1965 and then as the command pilot of Gemini 10 in 1966. Tom Stafford, Young's classmate, flew two Gemini missions as well, first as pilot of Gemini 6A in 1965 and then as command pilot of Gemini 9A in 1966. Gene Cernan was Stafford's Gemini 9A pilot and the second member of the third class of astronauts to fly. Apollo 10 was also the only Apollo crew in which every astronaut flew a subsequent mission— Young as commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 (along with two Shuttle flights in the early 80s), Cernan as commander of Apollo 17 in 1972, and Stafford as commander of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.


Young's Gemini 3 portrait and Stafford and Cernan's Gemini 9A portrait (NASA)


3. Patch Me Through

Apollo 10's mission patch was designed by Allen Stevens of North American Rockwell with input from the astronauts and is the fourth of his designs to be selected by a crew (the previous three being Apollo 1, Apollo 7, and Apollo 9). It is in the shape of a shield, much like Stafford and Cernan's Gemini 9 patch, and depicts the CSM and LM rendezvousing during lunar ascent, with the CSM flying through a large Roman numeral "X" (10) and the LM coming up from its low pass. The blue and gold colors may represent the Navy— Cernan and Young were Naval officers while Stafford attended the United States Naval Academy. The insignia also uses the same font as the Apollo 9 patch, Eurostile Extended.


Official Apollo 10 insignia

Official Apollo 10 insignia (NASA)


4. Snooping Around

The CSM and LM were named Charlie Brown and Snoopy, after the famous cartoon characters, and Snoopy became the mascot for manned flight awareness for decades. Since the LM was to "snoop" around potential landing sites, Snoopy seemed like a fitting name, and Charlie Brown, Snoopy's guardian, was the logical choice for the CSM. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was a supporter of the space program and let NASA use Snoopy at no cost— he himself drew the iconic image of Snoopy in a spacesuit and red scarf.

"NASA public relations people who felt that Gumdrop and Spider weren't really serious enough names for the historic value of Apollo 9 were even more underwhelmed when we obtained permission from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz to christen the Apollo 10 command module Charlie Brown and call the lunar module Snoopy. The P.R.-types lost this one big-time, for everybody on the planet knew the klutzy kid and his adventuresome beagle, and the names were embraced in the public relations bonanza." — Gene Cernan, The Last Man on the Moon

Snoopy has been used by NASA since 1968 in the form of the Silver Snoopy award, given to employees for outstanding achievements in flight safety and mission success. Snoopy returned to the moon in 2022 onboard Artemis I. It was only appropriate that the beloved beagle was the mascot for this lunar mission— in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, two dogs, Diana and Satellite, accompanied the explorers to the moon.


Charlie Brown is now on display at the Science Museum in London, England, and is the only American spacecraft located outside the US.


Peanuts strip from March 1969

Peanuts strip from March 1969


Stafford with a plush Snoopy and Young with a toy Charlie Brown (NASA)


5. The Sound of Music

Back in 2016, a television show ignited online interest in a story about the crew hearing "alien music" while on the far side of the moon. While the rumor of the noise coming from an alien life form is flat-out wrong, the astronauts did hear whistling sounds they described as "outer space-type music" in the CSM and LM. The sound turned out to be interference between the VHF radios on the two spacecraft— in fact, most subsequent crews heard this "music" as well. According to the Smithsonian, the Apollo spacecraft used multiple different radio links of different frequencies and sometimes, two different radio signals can interfere with each other and produce an audible tone.


Apollo 10 "music" transcript
Apollo 10 "music" transcript

Snippets from Apollo 10's mission transcript in which the crew discusses the "music" during Day 4 (NASA)


6. "We is Down Among 'Em, Charlie"

Apollo 10's primary objective was the testing of the Lunar Module in lunar orbit. The crew and spacecraft entered lunar orbit three days into their mission and Snoopy undocked from Charlie Brown on day four. After deploying the LM's landing legs, Stafford and Cernan performed the descent orbit insertion maneuver and surveyed potential landing sites for Apollo 11. Apollo Landing Site 2 in the Sea of Tranquility was confirmed as the primary target for the first manned lunar landing. Snoopy's closest approach to the surface during its low passes was 7.8 nautical miles (14.4 kilometers). When it came time to separate the LM's ascent stage from its descent stage for rendezvous with the CSM, the LM began to gyrate out of control, causing the crewmen to shout profanities into a hot mic. Stafford was able to manually regain control of the spacecraft. The culprit was an abort guidance system switch, which had been moved by one astronaut as part of the jettison procedure but moved back to its original position accidentally by the other. After stage separation, the ascent stage's engine was fired at the lowest point of the LM's orbit, as it would be following launch from the surface in later missions for its orbital insertion maneuver. During the LM's excursion, John Young also became the first person to fly solo in lunar orbit.


Apollo 10 ascent stage

Photo of Snoopy during approach taken through the window of Charlie Brown (NASA)


7. Here Comes the Sun

Snoopy was the only lunar module to meet the fate that it did. While its descent stage crashed into the lunar surface after jettison, its ascent stage was sent on a trajectory past the moon and into orbit around the sun [2]. In 2011, a team of amateur astronomers in the United Kingdom began looking for Snoopy, which had not been tracked by NASA since its jettison more than forty years prior. In 2019, Nick Howes of the Royal Astronomical Society announced the possible discovery of the lunar module still in heliocentric orbit. It is not known for sure if the object called 2018 AV2, initially believed to be an asteroid, is the long-lost lunar module, and its next close approach will not occur until 2037. If Snoopy is in fact orbiting the sun 55 years later, it would be the only once-crewed spacecraft still in space.


Apollo 10 lunar module Snoopy as seen from the CSM

Snoopy as seen from Charlie Brown (NASA)


8. Faster than a Speeding Bullet

The crew of Apollo 10 traveled faster than any humans in history on their return to Earth at a speed of 24,791 miles per hour (413.18 miles per minute or 39,897 kilometers per hour). This record still stands today, though the return speeds of all Apollo spacecraft differed by less than 1% of each other. Since Apollo 10 did not carry back moon rocks (or a dead spacecraft, as was the case with Apollo 13), it gained slightly more speed during its return. Additionally, the moon was the farthest from Earth at the time of Apollo 10 than during subsequent missions, so the crew also traveled farther from Earth than any other space crew [3].


Artist's depiction of Apollo command module reentering Earth's atmosphere

Artist's depiction of the Apollo command module reentering Earth's atmosphere (NASA)

9. Crossing the Delaware

On May 26, Apollo 10 was recovered by the USS Princeton, an Essex-class aircraft carrier built for the US Navy during World War II. She was named for the Revolutionary War Battle of Princeton and is the fifth Navy ship to bear such name. She was laid down as Valley Forge in September 1943 but renamed after the loss of the previous USS Princeton in October 1944. Though commissioned too late to actually serve in WWII, the Princeton saw extensive action in the Korean War, in which she earned eight battle stars, and the Vietnam War. She was reclassified first as an attack carrier in the early 1950s, then as an antisubmarine aircraft carrier, then lastly as an amphibious assault ship. Retrieving the Apollo 10 spacecraft and crew was one of her last missions. Less than a year later in January 1970, the Princeton was struck from the Naval register and sold for scrap.


Fermilab, the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, bought a portion of the steel deck plate for use in its high-energy particle physics experiments. Some of that steel was also used to create its iconic Broken Symmetry sculpture. And to come full-circle, John Young grew up on West Princeton Street in Orlando, Florida.


Apollo 10 on the deck of the USS Princeton

Apollo 10 crew on the deck of the USS Princeton (NASA)


10. And the Emmy Goes to...

Apollo 10 was the first mission to carry a color television camera, though not the first to broadcast live from inside their spacecraft. In June, the crew accepted a special Emmy award on the behalf of the first four Apollo crews for these broadcasts, the most famous of which was Apollo 8's Christmas Eve broadcast. In 2009, NASA Television received an Emmy in 2009 "in recognition for engineering excellence and technological innovations that made possible the first live TV broadcast from the moon by Apollo 11" (NASA).


Apollo 10 crew with Emmy awards

Young, Cernan, and Stafford with their awards (NASA)


Apollo 10 was a huge success and proved the lunar module could operate in lunar orbit. Now it was time to fulfill the late President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.


Apollo 10 gag crew photo

Apollo 10 gag crew portrait (NASA)




Author's note: Thanks for reading and be sure to like and share!


 

[1] The only other Apollo mission with no rookies was Apollo 11, and the next veteran space crew was that of STS-26 Discovery in 1989.

[2] Apollo 9's LM and Apollo 13's ascent stage burned up in Earth's atmosphere following mission completion. Apollo 11's ascent stage crashed into the moon uncontrolled, while the ascent stages of following missions were steered into the moon for seismology experiments (except for Apollo 16, which NASA had lost control of).

[3] Apollo 13 traveled farther past the moon than Apollo 10 and holds the record of the farthest distance traveled by humans.


 

Bibliography


Intellectual Properties I Don't Own

  • "The Sound of Music" — 1959 musical and later 1965 film, now owned by the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization

  • "Here Comes the Sun" — song written by George Harrison and performed by the Beatles

  • "Faster than a Speeding Bullet" — from the introduction to the TV show "Superman"

This post was written without the use of AI (sorry HAL).


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