Sunday, May 18, 2014

This Day in History

On May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 was launched. The crew consisted of astronauts Eugene Cernan, John Young, and the commander of the mission, Thomas Stafford.

A dry run for the more momentous Apollo 11--the one with Neil Armstrong--launched a few months later, it did all the same things, but minus a lunar landing. OK, that's one helluva minus. Let's see if I can get some addition going here

Stafford, Cernan, and Young were the second crew to orbit the moon. That's the command module above. So who got close enough to photographed it?

Either Cernan or Young, who flew the odd-looking contraption above, the Lunar Module.

The Lunar Module eventually came within 8.4 nautical miles (that's 15.6 km for all my foreign readers out there) of the moon.

Somewhere along the way somebody snapped a picture of an "Earthrise". It wasn't the first such picture, as an earlier (and more iconic) photo was taken on Apollo 8 in December, 1968.

In fact, Apollo 10 seemed destined to be the least iconic of all the 1960s space flights. Second moon orbit, second Earthrise, a lunar lander that never actually landed. Yet it was necessary. So how to make it more interesting, more entertaining, to the taxpaying public footing the bill? NASA turned to a pop culture phenomenon bigger than even the space program itself.

That's the Command Module on the left, the Lunar Module on the right.

Though the two modules were named after Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the comic strip characters were never "official" mascots for Apollo 10. However, if after looking at the above pictures you thought otherwise, you're forgiven.

If you were at a NASA visitors center 45 years later and thought otherwise, you're forgiven.

Let's briefly return to 1969.

As the astronauts walk down a brightly lit hallway, a young NASA secretary holds out a stuffed Snoopy for them to pet.

The petting threatened to turn heavy.

I know that one fellow's behavior might seem a bit boorish (or worse), but, remember, it was the 1960s. As Tom Wolfe and others have pointed out, the astronauts of that era tended to be on the horny side. 

Perhaps with some encouragement.


  1. Cool! (BTW, that should be 15 km to 8.4 nautical miles, not 1.5)

    ; )

    1. I've corrected the km, notacynic.

      At least I had the 1 and the 5 right

    2. Si' Just that pesky decimal placement ... ; )

  2. I grew up watching all the rocket launches (all the early ones that blew up) So to watch NASA was just something so big. The Space Program gave many of us the hope and feeling that we could do anything. So much different from today.
    Plus for me when all else fails just put Snoopy on it. Instant hit.
    I watched every launch that I was able to.
    Today we have no excitement no dreams of reaching for the stars. Beyond seeing how much money we can cheat/steal from someone else.

    As usual a interesting post. Your brain must be like Sheldon's.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. If you're referring to the Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, parsnip, I don't think he would have made as many typos as I did on this post!

    2. By the way, parsnip, since you're comment about there being no excitement to space anymore was similar to Postino's, I decided to respond to both of you below. Please keep reading.

  3. I think you are right about Apollo 10 being sort of the "forgotten" mission. I can't remember anything about it, even the Charlie Brown and Snoopy connection, and I was both a NASA and Peanuts fan. The bigness of the subsequent moon landing superseded all of the buildup of astronauts orbiting the moon.

    I also agree with angryparsnip that we seemed to have forgotten those dreams of reaching for the stars. We even have to pay the Russians to get our astronauts to the space station. My hope is that someday we'll go back to the my lifetime.

    Oops, a typo. You give the date of the launch as 1960.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I changed the date, Postino.

      At least I got the 1 and the 9 and the 6 right.

      At some later date I plan to do a post, or possibly a series of posts, on the 1960s space program (in fact, this anniversary reminded me of it) and how it came about, why it ended, and why it would be so hard to replicate it. I do think it was a mistake to end the space shuttle flights without having something immediate to replace them with. I imagine it's cheaper paying the Russians to send our astronauts up there than it was operating the shuttle, but now they're threatening not to take us if we don't shut up about the Crimea. That's not good. But regardless of how we get there, the space station itself never seemed to generate much excitement. If we had built a station on the moon instead, would that have excited everybody? Maybe, maybe not. If we had colonize the moon and turned it into the 51st state (as Newt Gingrich once suggested) would that have excited everybody? At first, until everybody (including people who move to this "state") realize it's tantamount to colonizing Antarctica. Now, a manned trip to Mars would be exciting. The first time. Who ever set foot on the red planet first would be as famous as Neil Armstrong. What about a second trip to Mars? The man who set his foot on it then would be as famous as Pete Conrad. Then, if we wanted to keep going there, someone would have to shoot a golf ball, drive a car, etc.

      Of course, the space program isn't just all about assuring the American people keep continuously excited. There's science to be had, too. Except I don't know that the American people are all that interested in science. If they were, they wouldn't yawn every time a COLOR PHOTOGRAPH is transmitted from Mars. What the American people ARE interested in is science-fiction. That's the nub of NASA's problem, how to compete with 100 or so years of science-fiction books, comic books, movies, and TV shows.

      Now, an alien invasion of Earth might very well excite the American people.

      The first one, anyway.

  4. You do some extensive investigation for these posts. Interesting.

  5. So extensive, Adam, that I have to rush through the writing and end up with a bunch of typos.