An international group of researchers led by British astronomer Nick Howes may have found the lunar module used in the Apollo 10 mission. The spacecraft was sent on a solar orbit after the mission was complete and has since orbited the Sun.
The story begins just over 50 years ago in late May, 1969. Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan performed key maneuvers around the Moon as preparation for the eventual moon landing by Apollo 11 astronauts in July 1969.
Stafford and Cernan took the lunar module (LM), nicknamed Snoopy, to just 15.6 kilometers (9.69 miles) from the surface of the Moon. The two flew the LM for several hours before returning to the command module, nicknamed Charlie Brown. Snoopy was then sent away from our planet’s gravitational influence and on an orbit that would let it forever orbit the Sun. The orbit has a semi-major axis 3 percent larger than Earth's own.
The project to find Snoopy started in 2011 when Howes estimated that the odds of finding it would be 235 million to one. Sometimes, however, the needle in a haystack can be found, and a potential object was picked up by Mt Lemmon Sky Center Observatory in Arizona. Howes and his colleagues collected 102 observations, calculated orbital data, and even got, in Howes own words, some “interesting” radar observations.
The object is now too faint to be visible with telescopes, so Howes stressed that it is not confirmed that the object observed is indeed Snoopy. To prove it is the Apollo 10 LM would require a close approach mission, but it won't make a close pass to our planet until 2037. At the talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival where Howes discussed the observations, a member of the audience suggested launching CubeSats on an intercept mission.
Howes thinks that the money for such a mission would be better spent elsewhere. The Apollo 10 is believed to be the fastest crewed vehicle ever and, given the position of the Moon at the time of the mission, the astronauts also traveled farthest from Earth, some 408,950 kilometers (253,109 miles).
[H/T: Sky News]