Less than three weeks before their mission, Apollo
10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, Eugene A. Cernan and John W. Young met
with the press on April 26, 1969, at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in
Houston, now Johnson Space Center. The trio described their upcoming flight to
the assembled reporters, which essentially would be a dress rehearsal for the
Moon landing. Once in lunar orbit, Stafford and
Cernan, aboard their Lunar Module (LM) “Snoopy,” would descend to about 50,000
feet above the Moon’s surface and photograph the primary landing site for
Apollo 11: the Sea of Tranquility. Snoopy
would travel up to 350 miles from Young in the Command and Service Module (CSM)
“Charlie Brown” during these maneuvers. Simulating a litfoff from the Moon, Stafford
and Cernan would then complete a rendezvous and docking with Young in the CSM.
Apollo 10 crew members
(left to right) Thomas Stafford, Eugene Cernan (with mascot Snoopy) and John Young
at crew press conference on April 26. Image Credit: NASA
As part of that inspection, they would take stereo
photographs to obtain the highest-resolution images of the site. They would
also activate the LM’s landing radar during the low passes, a critical test
before the Moon landing.
Regarding the complexity of the mission, Cernan said, “I’ve
never been involved in anything that has required as great an amount of
coordination and team work as … to work with two vehicles in a lunar
Left: Apollo 10
astronauts (left to right) Stafford, Cernan and Young stand in front of their
Saturn V rocket at Launch Pad 39B. Right: Apollo 10 astronauts receive a
briefing on lunar topography from geologist and astronaut Harrison Schmitt
(second from left).
When not speaking with the press, Stafford, Cernan and Young
spent time—nearly daily—in the LM and Command Module simulators,
rehearsing various aspects of their upcoming mission. During many of these
simulations, mission control in Houston was tied in to give flight controllers
practice. The astronauts also spent time reviewing procedures, updating
checklists and receiving briefings on spacecraft systems and lunar topography.
Managers from NASA Headquarters, Kennedy Space Center, MSC
and the Marshall Space Flight Center met at Kennedy on April 23 to conduct the
Flight Readiness Review for Apollo 10. At the conclusion of the meeting, during
which they reviewed all aspects of the flight hardware, as well as the
readiness of the crew, the control centers and the Manned Spaceflight Network,
the managers decided that the mission was ready to proceed with a launch on May
18. The Countdown Demonstration Test, a final dress rehearsal of the countdown,
was scheduled to be conducted between April 29 and May 6, with the three crewmates
participating in the final phase as if on launch day.
Even as the Apollo 10 flight approached launch, NASA was
preparing for the Moon-landing mission, Apollo 11, planned for July. While test
flights with NASA pilots continued with the Lunar
Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base near MSC,
Apollo 11 crew members made use of the Lunar
Landing Research Facility at the NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia
to train for the final descent to the lunar surface.
Backup Commander James A. Lovell and backup LM Pilot Fred W.
Haise practiced Moon landings in the Lunar Landing Research Facility in
mid-April. Prime crew Commander Neil A. Armstrong and prime LM Pilot Edwin E.
“Buzz” Aldrin would use the facility for practice landings in late June. Once the
LLTV was cleared for astronaut training in early June, Armstrong and Lovell completed
training flights in that higher-fidelity vehicle later that month. Because the
LLTV was a single-seat vehicle, and there was limited time available for
training, only prime and backup commanders trained with it, while the Lunar
Landing Research Facility was available to both commanders and LM pilots.
At MSC, Armstrong, Aldrin, Lovell and Haise each completed
sea-level runs in Chamber B of the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory
(SESL). During these tests, the astronauts wore their spacesuits and practiced various
activities of the lunar surface Extravehicular Activity, or spacewalk, such as activating
the TV camera, collecting rock samples and deploying the scientific experiments
of the Early
Apollo Surface Experiment Package (EASEP). They followed up these ambient
sessions with altitude runs in early May.
NASA was even looking beyond the first landing, making
preparations for Apollo 12, the second Moon landing expected to occur about
four months after the first. Hardware for this mission had begun to arrive at
Kennedy in March, including the Saturn V rocket’s S-II second and S-IVB third
stages, the LM and the CSM. The Apollo
12 crew of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Alan L. Bean and Richard F. Gordon,
announced in early April, was already in training and preparing for the first
geology field trip to Hawaii in early May.
Left: The Apollo 12 LM
ascent stage is lowered onto the CSM in Kennedy’s altitude chamber for a
docking test. Middle: The Apollo 12 S-IVB third stage arrives at Kennedy.
Right: The Apollo 12 S-II second stage is wheeled into the Vehicle Assembly
Building. Image Credits: NASA
Don't Forget: Relive Apollo 10 and Connect with NASA's Return to the Moon on April 25
As NASA heads to the Moon, an Apollo legend with real-other-world experience
will share his stories from the Apollo 10 mission, which orbited the Moon to
out all the unknowns and actually pave the whole way for the lunar landing
Gen. Thomas Stafford, upcoming Lessons & Legacies panelist, also holds
the distinction of reaching the highest speed ever attained by man during Apollo
10's re-entry, when his spacecraft reached 24,791 statute mph, above Mach 36.
This ultimate speed record still holds today and may not be exceeded until an
astronaut crew returns from a mission to Mars.
Stafford will join Apollo Propulsion Engineer Bernie Rosenbaum, astronaut
Randy Bresnik and Deputy Gateway Program Manager Lara Kearney on the panel.
Orion’s Annette Hasbrook will moderate the discussion, which starts shortly
after doors open at 9 a.m. on April 25 in the Teague Auditorium.
Past Silver Snoopy awardees, be sure to wear your Silver Snoopy
pins to the event, as you will be recognized.
But wait—there’s more.
The Snoopy and Peanuts connection that began with Apollo will be on vibrant
display in the Teague lobby following the panel discussion. Bring your cell
phones and your cameras to capture these moments “for the ‘gram,” or any social
media of your choosing. A human-sized Snoopy will be circulating the crowds, and
there will be cake and other refreshments.
Later that evening, Space Center Houston will host a Thought
Leader Series with Stafford. Get your free ticket to that event, which starts at
7 p.m., here.
John Uri, Johnson Space Center
The Lunar Landing Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Image Credit: NASA
Astronaut Neil Armstrong practices during an ambient run in the SESL’s Chamber B. Image Credit: NASA
Buzz Aldrin practices setting up the laser retroreflector experiment, part of the EASEP suite of experiments. Image Credits: NASA