With Apollo 9 having successfully tested the LM in Earth orbit, the next issue was whether to fly the ‘F’ mission or to push on and attempt the lunar landing. In fact, it would be impossible for LM-4 to attempt the ‘G’ mission, as the software to conduct the powered descent was still under development. Furthermore, owing to propellant restrictions in the ascent stage of this somewhat overweight LM it would be unable to lift off and rendezvous. Tom Stafford, the Apollo 10 commander, argued against his crew waiting for LM-5 to become available. ‘‘There are too many ‘unknowns’ up there,’’ he noted. ‘‘We can’t get rid of the risk element for the men who will land on the Moon but we can minimise it; our job is to find out everything we can in order that only a small amount of ‘unknown’ is left.’’
On 24 March 1969 NASA stated that Apollo 10 would fly the ‘F’ mission. The original idea had called for the LM merely to undock, enter a slightly different orbit, rendezvous and redock, but in December 1968 the Mission Planning and Analysis Division at the Manned Spacecraft Center had urged putting the descent propulsion system through a high-fidelity rehearsal in which the LM would lower its perilune sufficiently to test the ability of the landing radar to detect and lock onto the surface. Howard Tindall also proposed that the LM should initiate the powered descent and then execute an early abort by ‘fire in the hole’ staging, but his colleagues convinced him that this would be too adventurous. One aspect of the decision to go ahead with the ‘F’ mission was to evaluate the tracking and communications of two vehicles in lunar orbit. In essence, it had been decided to exploit the fortuitous relaxation in schedule pressure and improve on Apollo 8 by performing a rehearsal to the point at which a later LM would initiate its powered descent.
The finally agreed plan called for the LM to separate from the CSM in the circular lunar parking orbit, enter an elliptical orbit having a perilune of about 50,000 feet located just east of the prime landing site, execute a low pass and then jettison the descent stage to make the rendezvous.
In April 1969 the site selectors met to decide the prime target for the first Apollo landing. The photographs of ALS-1 taken by Apollo 8 indicated the presence of a smooth blanket of light-toned material that softened or masked the landscape, and a study of the craters showed that the regolith was quite thick, which in turn implied a considerable age. The fact that the site was atypical of the maria made it unattractive for dating the maria, so it was rejected. This left ALS-2 in the southwestern part of Mare Tranquillitatis as the prime target. In early May, Jack Schmitt put it to Tom Stafford that the launch of Apollo 10 be slipped 24 hours from the proposed date so that the low-perilune pass over ALS-2 could be made in illumination matching that of a mission attempting to land there. This would enable high-resolution pictures to be taken of the site and the landmarks on the approach route. Stafford was receptive. Schmitt approached George Low, who asked Chris Kraft, who sought the advice of the flight control specialists – there were issues in favour and against. When the case was put to Sam Phillips he rescheduled the launch.
AS-505 had been installed on Pad 39B on 11 March, and Apollo 10 lifted off on schedule at 16:49:00 GMT on 18 May 1969 with Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan.
When the S-IVB cutoff at T + 703.76 seconds, the deviations were -0.23 ft/sec in velocity and -0.08 nautical miles in altitude. After translunar injection, CSM-106 ‘Charlie Brown’ separated, turned around and docked with LM-4 ‘Snoopy’, then the pair were released by the stage. The S-IVB then used propulsive venting to adopt a path that would fly past the Moon and enter solar orbit. At 026:32:56.8 the service propulsion system made a 49.2-ft/sec burn to match a July lunar landing trajectory. At 075:55:54.0 the spacecraft entered an initial lunar orbit of 60.2 x 170.0 nautical miles. Two revolutions later, this was refined to 59.2 x 61.0 nautical miles. During a 30-minute colour TV transmission the astronauts showed off the lunar surface. They reported the colour of the surface to be less grey than was described by Apollo 8. In particular, Mare Serenitatis appeared ‘‘tan’’, whereas Mare Tranquillitatis appeared ‘‘dark brown’’.
After undocking at 098:29:20, the vehicles took up station 30 feet apart while Young inspected the LM, and then the CSM moved off. A 27.4-second burn by the descent propulsion system at 099:46:01.6 placed the LM into a descent orbit with its perilune 15 degrees east of ALS-2. The landing radar was tested while passing over that site at an altitude of 47,400 feet an hour later. The pictures taken were of greater resolution than those transmitted by the Lunar Orbiters. Unfortunately, the 16-mm
This oblique view looking northwest across the crater Maskelyne was taken by the Apollo 10 Lunar Module ‘Snoopy’ as it flew low over Mare Tranquillitatis towards the ALS-2 target.
movie camera failed. A descent propulsion system burn at 100:58:25.9 put the LM into an orbit of 12.1 x 190.1 nautical miles to arrange a ‘lead angle’ equivalent to that which would occur at cutoff of an ascent from the lunar surface. At 102:44:49, during preparations to start the rendezvous with the CSM, the LM started to wallow off slowly in yaw and then stopped, and several seconds later it initiated a rapid roll accompanied by small pitch and yaw rates. Subsequent analysis revealed that this anomalous motion was due to human error. The control mode of the abort guidance system had inadvertently been returned to AUTO instead of the Attitude HOLD mode for staging. In AUTO, the abort guidance system steered the LM to enable the rendezvous radar to acquire the CSM, which at this point was not in accordance with the plan. The required attitude was re-established by the commander taking manual control. The descent stage was jettisoned at 102:45:16.9, and 10 minutes later an ascent propulsion system burn achieved an orbit of 11.0×46.5 nautical miles. This matched the insertion orbit for a mission returning from the surface. The LM had the active role in the rendezvous, and docked at 106:22:02. Two hours later the ascent stage was jettisoned, and during the next revolution the ascent propulsion system was fired to depletion in order to place the vehicle into solar orbit.
At 137:39:13.7, after 31 lunar revolutions, the CSM made the transearth injection. The aim was so accurate that it required only a 2.2-ft/sec refinement 3 hours prior to shedding the service module to centre the trajectory in the ‘corridor’ for atmospheric entry. The capsule splashed into the Pacific 1.3 nautical miles off target at 16:52:23 on 26 May and adopted the apex-up flotation attitude. The astronauts were aboard USS Princeton within the hour.
While Apollo 10 was in transit to the Moon, AS-506 was rolled out to Pad 39A in preparation for the Apollo 11 mission. After the pictures taken during the low pass over ALS-2 were examined, it was confirmed as the prime site for Apollo 11. ALS-3 in Sinus Medii was 2 day’s terminator travel westward and would be the backup. If the launch had to be delayed beyond the date for ALS-3, then the target would be ALS-5 in Oceanus Procellarum. In the post-flight debriefing, Tom Stafford pointed out that although the ALS-2 aim point was acceptable, the western end of the ellipse was much rougher. He advised Neil Armstrong that if he were to find himself at the far end of the ellipse and did not have the hover time to manoeuvre among the small craters and boulders to select a spot on which to land, then he would have to ‘‘shove off” – by which Stafford meant abort.