Apollo 10 – the Peanuts mission to the Moon

In May 1969, another Saturn V rocket launched the next mission in the series, Apollo 10. This was the final dry run for a historic landing. 

The crew of Apollo 10: Lunar Module pilot Eugene Cernan, Commander Thomas Stafford, and Command Module pilot John Young. Image credit: NASA

Apollo 10 flew to the Moon and completed all elements of what would be required save for touching down on the lunar surface.

The crew were Commander Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan, all veterans of the Gemini program. The CSM, piloted by Young, was dubbed Charlie Brown, after the character in the famous Peanuts cartoon strip, and the LM Snoopy after his dog.

After a three-day trip to the Moon, during which the two spacecraft modules docked, Apollo 10 went into a circular orbit around the Moon. Stafford and Cernan then boarded the LM and fired its thrusters to separate the two craft.

Snoopy changed its orbit to allow the module to swoop low over the lunar surface, coming to within 14 km from the ground. This allowed the astronauts to take many photos, particularly of the sites picked for the future landings.

Following extensive tests, Snoopy’s descent stage was jettisoned to crash eventually into the Moon, and the ascent stage rendezvoused and docked again with Charlie Brown, eight hours after they had parted company.

Apollo 10’s command module Charlie Brown is photographed orbiting the Moon. Image credit: NASA

The ascent stage was then discarded, into an orbit that sent it circling the Sun, and the next day Charlie Brown fired its engines to head for home, having made 31 orbits of the Moon. Two days later, the Command Module broke free from the Service Module and delivered the crew safely to a splashdown in the Pacific.

Apollo 10’s Command Module is the only one that now has a home outside the United States because it was presented on extended loan for display at the Science Museum in London.

Next: Apollo 11 – Man on the Moon