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Curator's Choice: Apollo 10 Command Module

A view of Earth taken from the moon during the Apollo 10 mission

© NASA

    • Have you ever heard of Project Apollo? It was a program carried out by NASA to get humans into space - specifically, the Moon. Apollo 11 was the space flight that accomplished that goal – you may have heard of Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when he first set foot on the moon (you can watch that moment in this video from British Pathewww.youtube.com/watch?v=CSUEo8hju4o).

      Apollo 10 was a kind of rehearsal for Apollo 11. The crew of three men tested all the equipment and methods needed to land on the Moon – in fact, they did everything except land on the Moon!

      Spacecraft come all sorts of shapes and sizes but Apollo 10 was made up of two parts: a lunar module, which was the part designed to land on the Moon and the command module, which was where the crew sat and operated most of the controls.

      NASA uses call signs to identify the different parts and for Apollo 10 they called the lunar module Snoopy and the command module Charlie Brown, after the cartoon characters.

      Below is a picture of Doug Millard a curator at the Science Museum in London. Behind him is the Apollo 10 command module.

      a photo of a man standing in front of a space capsule
      Find out why Charlie Brown is his favourite object:

      "To be brutally honest, and despite my professional interest, I've chosen this because of my childhood. I'm half a century old so I remember the Apollo programme very clearly – I'm just the right age to have enjoyed Apollo's 10 and 11 as an 11-year-old boy. Being granted responsibility for Charlie Brown, the Apollo 10 capsule, was almost surreal.

      It doesn't look like a spaceship. It's all wrong – the wrong colour, the wrong shape. It looks like it may have been kept in a barn somewhere.

      Of course, the reason it's that colour and looks like it's been made out of wood is the scorching re-entry it underwent as it came back through the Earth's atmosphere, which burnt off the plastic heat shield.

      a photo of a bronzed conical capsule with an stronaut figure visibel inside
      When we look at the object itself, we're seeing a final, frozen moment in time, but presumably millions of man-hours went into designing, developing, testing, constructing and flying that object.

      Apollo 10 was a home for three men for eight days, which is pretty amazing in itself given that it's so small and confined. And on top of all that, it travelled three quarters of a million miles, went into space and visited another world.

      Rocket science isn't difficult, actually – the maths is tricky, but it’s actually very straightforward. Newton basically sewed it up several centuries ago.

      We can't let people touch it or go inside, but I have been inside it myself. It's very cramped and disorientating because of its shape – it's quite unlike anything we're used to here on Earth. Of course, the astronauts were trained until they were completely used to this strange enclosure, and in weightless conditions more space would have been available.

      You can still see the astronauts' writing on the console where they've done a bit of arithmetic.”

      You can read more about Doug’s favourite object here on our other website, Culture 24.
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