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Oklahoma Journeys

Apollo 10

2010-05-15

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On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy asked Congress for tens of millions of dollars for NASA to send men to the Moon and back in that decade. Eight years later, almost to the day on May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 commanded by Oklahoman Thomas Stafford launched from Cape Kennedy to fly within five miles of the Moon's surface. That's our story on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced that America would send men to the Moon in the 1960s; a goal that seemed right out of a science fiction movie. Just two weeks before Kennedy's speech Allan Sheppard had flown the first sub-orbital flight traveling only 303 miles from Cape Canaveral to a landing in the Atlantic Ocean. An American had not yet even orbited the Earth, and now the president was declaring that we send men to the Moon and back.

Over the next eight years a lot would happen, and America would take the commanding lead in space exploration leading to the Unites States accomplishing the President's goal. On May 18, 1969, eight years almost to the day after Kennedy's announced goal, NASA launched Apollo 10 commanded by Weatherford, Oklahoma's Tom Stafford. Interestingly, another Oklahoman, Shawnee's Gordon Cooper, was his back up on the number two crew. Eugene Cernan was the Lunar Module pilot, and John Young was the Command Module pilot. The mission included everything necessary to complete the goal President Kennedy had set years earlier, everything except actually landing on the Moon.

This spacecraft was the second Apollo mission to orbit the Moon, but the first to travel to the Moon with the full gear needed. That consisted of a Command and Service Module, named the "Charlie Brown," and the Lunar Module, named "Snoopy." The mission was a full dry run or dress rehearsal in which all operations except the actual lunar landing were performed for the Apollo 11 mission, which would be the first landing on the Moon.

On May 22, Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan entered the Lunar Module and fired the reaction control thrusters to separate the Lunar Module from the Command Module. The Lunar Module was then put into an orbit to allow low-altitude passes over the lunar surface, the closest approach bringing it to within five-and-a-half miles of the Moon. They flew 31 orbits around the Moon.

The afternoon of May 26, the Apollo splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa. The crew had been space for just over eight days, traveling to within five miles of the Moon. That set the stage for Apollo 11 a month and a half later, the mission we of course all remember.

Stafford's first space flight was in December 1965 in the Gemini 6 capsule, and that capsule, his flight suit and other artifacts from Oklahomans in space are on display at the Oklahoma History Center, just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.