Schools are being challenged to help find a NASA moonship that was lost in space more than 40 years ago. The lunar module, called Snoopy, was jettisoned by the crew of Apollo 10 when they returned from a dummy run that prepared for the first Moon landing.
Astronauts Gene Cernan, Tom Stafford and John Young splashed down in the Pacific inside their command module Charlie Brown in May 1969, two months before Apollo 11’s historic mission. But Snoopy disappeared in an orbit around the Sun and the gravitational pull of the planets meant NASA soon lost track of it.
Now astronomers are teaming up with schools to use robotic telescopes over the internet to scan the night sky and find the spacecraft. The telescopes, part of the Faulkes Telescope Project run by Glamorgan University, are in Hawaii and Australia meaning schools can look with them during normal lesson times in the UK.
The hunt is being led by amateur astronomer Nick Howes, of Cherhill, Wilts, a former senior test engineer for Yamaha who has himself discovered or imaged a number of faint asteroids and comets remotely using the Faulkes telescopes.
He said: “The whole history of Apollo is remarkable and includes some of the most inspiring scientific and explorative missions in history. We thought this would be an exciting way to engage schools.”
Nick admits that the search will make looking for a needle in a haystack seem easy. But he said: “Whilst there is every chance we won’t find it, it’s like the lottery – unless you play, you don’t win it.
“With our Snoopy project, we hope to involve hundreds of pupils. We expect to discover dozens of new asteroids and maybe some comets too in our search areas so we’ll be doing great science at the same time.”
The team will enlist the expertise of Mike Loucks of US-based Space Exploration Engineering to narrow down the area for their Snoopy hunt. Former NASA ground staff who worked on the Moon missions have expressed their support too.
Charlie Brown, the Apollo 10 command module, is now in the Science Museum, London, the only capsule outside the US. It sped back from the Moon at nearly 25,000 mph, which is still the fastest humans have ever flown.