Fifty years after it was jettisoned into space, scientists believe they may have located the last remaining lunar module from the Apollo missions.
Apollo 10 launched in May 1969 as what would be, essentially, a dress rehearsal for the first-ever moon landing.
Following its successful run, during which the ‘Snoopy’ lunar module brought crew within roughly 50,000 feet of the moon’s surface, astronauts re-docked with the ‘Charlie Brown’ command module and Snoopy was never seen again.
Now, after a meticulous search through terabytes of optical data, a team led by astronomer Nick Howes says it’s ’98 percent convinced’ they’ve pinpointed the lost module in what would be a 235 million-to-one discovery.
Howes, a fellow at the Royal Astronomical Society, detailed the findings during a conference at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK this weekend.
Scientists have been searching for Snoopy since 2011, when Howes first kick-started the effort to find the lost module, the researcher noted on Twitter after the presentation.
The first observation is thought to have been made by a team at the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory, and additional data from numerous facilities appear to support it.
But, we may never really know for sure.
‘Until someone gets really close to it and gets a detailed radar profile, we can’t be sure,’ Howes told the audience at Cheltenham Science Festival, according to SkyNews.
‘We’ve got to wait quite a few years for it to come back, but once it does come back the idea is that we are going to get a really detailed picture of it,’ he said.
‘It would be a really fantastic achievement for science.’
Tracking down Snoopy and retrieving it would be a monumental effort, though it could be possible using a combination of Cubesats and advanced machinery such as that used by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the researcher says.
‘People say “what’s the point?” From a space archaeology point of view, it’s interesting,’ Howes said, according to Sky.
‘It’s the only one that’s up there that has flown that is left. The Apollo program was the greatest technical achievement in human history.
‘As a piece of history, a moment in history, this is a unique artifact,’ the researcher added.
Despite the excitement the possible discovery has generated, Howes isn’t calling for a mission to go up and get Snoopy just yet.
‘Frankly if someone said “here’s $50 million to develop the mission to prove it’s Snoopy” I’d genuinely reply “here’s the details for a very worthy charity ..please give it to them,”‘ the researcher tweeted on Sunday.
If it is ever found and brought back to Earth, though, it will be a feat of great historical value.
“As Apollo 10 crew member Eugene Cernan said to me,’ Howes said at the festival, “‘Son, if you find that and bring it down, imagine the queues at the Smithsonian?”‘