Science

Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth

A team of British astronomers believe they may have located the lunar module from NASA's Apollo 10 mission - fifty years after the crew released the probe into a perpetual orbit around the Moon.

The lunar module is one of the greatest surviving relics of the moon landings and scientists want to devise a way to retrieve it as it orbits some 50,000ft above the lunar surface.

At the time of the mission in 1969, Tom Stafford, a member of the Apollo 10 crew radioed back to Houston from his own orbit around Moon that the crew had completely lost sight of the probe after they jettisoned it from their command module.

Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth

'We don't have any idea where he went. He just went boom and it disappeared right into the Sun,' Stafford said.

The lunar module, nicknamed Snoopy, was thought to be lost forever, though the search intrigued many back on Earth who felt that one day they might be able to find this tiny needle in a cosmic haystack.

At just four meters wide, it was always going to be a long shot but Nick Howes, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, along with legendary flight controllers, space dynamics experts and astronauts from the Apollo program, have spent a number of years in a calculated hunt for the probe.

The team now believe that they may have found it and according to The Times all they need is someone with the expertise to go and retrieve it.

Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth

All the other craft that were used during the Apollo missions were either fired into the Moon for seismology experiments or jettisoned to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Snoopy, however, was used as practice run for the Apollo 11 lunar landing, which would take place two months after Apollo 10 in July 1969.

Two of the three astronauts transferred into it as it drifted nine miles above the Moon's surface. The pair then moved back into the command module. The mission was deemed a success.

Snoopy was fired off and left to drift in orbit forever with no realistic way to track it.

Then, eight years ago, Howes began a project to try and locate the last surviving module and managed to get astronomers from around the world to focus their telescopes on regions of the moon where he calculated it may pass though.

Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth

He even persuaded schools to get on board and help analyse the data.

'The approximate distance it travels in its orbit is 940 million kilometers. When you are looking for something four meters wide and the last reliable data you've got on it is 50 years ago, it's a bit tricky,' he told The Times.

But against the odds, it seems the astronomers have found this unique piece of space junk after spotting an object that looked 'odd'.

'It was a strange anomalous object in approximately the right orbit and exactly the right size. The radar data was completely whack, as one astronomer put it. It was like nothing we've ever seen. We're 99 percent convinced we've got it,' said Howes.

Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth
Has the Apollo 10 lunar module finally been found? Astronomers believe they have located NASA's probe left orbiting the Moon 50 years ago - and now they want to bring it back to Earth

But even the strongest telescope is unable to see an object so small at that range. The only real way to verify if the object is indeed the lunar module is to go back up there and take a look.

Howes believes there is a strong argument for doing so.

'To recover one lunar module that is intact would be, I feel, quite special. The quality of engineering that went in to the Apollo program would probably mean that if power was restored you may even be able to fire up some of the systems.

'What I'm hoping is someone like Elon Musk can develop something and capture it and bring it back down.'

Nick Howes is appearing in Dude, Where's My Spacecraft? at the Cheltenham Science Festival on June 8.