Space, Captain Kirk told us, is the final frontier. What he may have meant by that is just how bloody big space is.
Sunlight takes eight minutes to hit Earth after leaving the sun, and considering that the speed of light is 300,000 kilometres per SECOND, it’s no wonder that searching for things in space and getting a signal back is a time expensive exercise.
This year marks 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked upon the surface of the Moon, but it also marks 50 years since the dress rehearsal for the main event — the Apollo 10 mission.
Apollo missions were known for having a pair of names for the Command Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM).
Apollo 10 had Charlie Brown for the CSM, and Snoopy, naturally, for the LM.
At the time, it was the only flight crewed by astronauts that had already been in space.
Tom Stafford, Eugene Cernan, and John Young (who would later be the first pilot of the space shuttle’s space test missions) had all flown in the pre-Apollo missions called Gemini.
Apollo 10’s mission was to test the ships to within a few kilometres of the Moon’s surface, and would be effectively everything that Apollo 11 would be bar one critical thing — the actual landing on the Moon.
Part of the mission was to measure the effect of the Moon’s gravitation on the two machines in orbit.
The ascent stage of the LM, the upper section of the two parts that made up the lunar module, was fuelled with what was calculated to be the amount of fuel left over as if it had landed and then lifted off from the Moon.
The story goes that it was done deliberately to stop the astronauts taking it upon themselves to break regulations and attempt a landing if the craft was fully loaded.
May 18 was the date the Saturn V rocket lifted off from pad 39-B at Cape Canaveral and the craft would reach “lunar insertion” orbit three days later.
The procedure from here was to dock the CSM with the LM, perform the manoeuvres that would land the LM, then redock with the CSM.
During these testing phases, they would reach an altitude of just 14.4km above the lunar surface.
After the docking procedure with the upper stage of Snoopy, the lower or descent stage was left in orbit before it eventually crashed into the Moon.
Shortly after separation though, the upper stage of the LM began spinning wildly, with Cernan stating he saw the horizon eight times in a short space of time.
Where the ascent stage of Snoopy differed from following Apollo missions is the important part of this tale.
Apollo 11 onwards would fire the ascent stage at the Moon so the equipment left behind would register the impact and measure how much force it had imparted upon the surface.
Snoopy, however, was fired into lunar orbit, and tragically, one that wasn’t measured for more than a few months at the time.
However, interest in Snoopy’s location increased in the mid 2010s due to the coming 50th anniversary.
“To say it’s like finding a needle in a haystack is doing a disservice to the haystacks,” Director of the Faulkes Telescope Project, one of the teams searching for the black and silver painted craft, Paul Roche, said.
“Whilst there are records of the last known movements and orbital information for Snoopy, this is going back over 40 years.
“The module has been affected by the gravity of the Sun, Earth and Moon for all that time, then you have all sorts of other factors that mean we need to search a very big chunk of sky for this thing.”
In 2018 a small trans-solar object was found, and named 2018 AV2.
Initial surveys of the item’s orbit raised eyebrows as it was unlike any other object located.
With the project having a number of telescopes world wide, including Siding Spring at Coonabarabran in central north-west NSW, further observations, including measuring the object’s relative brightness level, have lead to a conclusion that this object is almost certainly Snoopy — with more than 98 per cent certainty.
With the CSM’s main command module residing in the Smithsonian Museum, there is thought of a mission to retrieve Snoopy and reunite the pair.
There is plenty of time in which to plan and implement such a retrieval, as the next time the object thought to be Snoopy gets to within 4 million miles of Earth is 2037.
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