On this day fifty years ago at 4:49 PM Irish time, Apollo 10 lifted off launch pad 34B(the only one to launch from there because Apollo 11 would be using the other one 34A) on what was to be the dress rehearsal for what potentially would be the first attempt to land on the moon a couple of months later on Apollo 11. Apollo 10 was to quote commander Tom Stafford a mission “to sort out all the unknowns”
The crew of Apollo 10 were all veterans of spaceflight in commander Tom Stafford, CM pilot John Young, and LM pilot Gene Cernan. All three astronauts would fly again in space after Apollo 10. John Young would do so as commander of Apollo 16, and Gene Cernan as commander of Apollo 17. Gene Cernan would be the last man to walk on the lunar surface. Tom Stafford would fly in space as one of crew of the Apollo Soyuz mission.
The mission would do everything Apollo 11 would do bar land on the moon. The LM was not fully fueled so had the astronauts tried to land they wouldn’t have been able to lift off the surface. The LM of Apollo 10 with callsign snoopy got to 15.6 km from the lunar surface. It would be at this point two months later that the Apollo 11 LM Eagle would begin powered descent to the lunar surface. There was a moment when the LM was returning to dock with the CM that sent the LM into a roll of at least eight revolutions(As Gene Cernan said years later that he saw the lunar surface eight times. There is no evidence to back this up though according to the recordings.), this was due to the crew duplicating commands into the LM computer but the mission continued to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on May 26th eight days later.
Apollo 10 is to me a stepping stone mission like Apollo 8 before it. When I say stepping stone I mean that without Apollo 8 then Apollo 10 wouldn’t have happened when it did, and without 10 then 12 not 11 may have been the mission we all remember. This mission proved the Apollo spacecraft ready to attempt to fulfill president John F Kennedy’s goal of landing on the moon before the 1960s ended and ending the space race.
Launch of Apollo 10
RIP John Young and Gene Cernan.