Earlier this week, a group of UK amateur astronomers announced their intention to find ‘Snoopy’, the Apollo 10 Lunar Module. After the mission had performed its “dry run” lunar landing in May 1969 – although the closest the LM got to the lunar surface was 47,400 feet above the Sea of Tranquility – the LM was jettisoned. After the other lunar landings, the ascent stage was allowed to fall back to the Moon’s surface, but Apollo 10 left their LM’s ascent stage in cislunar space and it subsequently entered into orbit about the Sun. So it’s still out there somewhere.
Back in the early 1980s, I vaguely recall a US television series called Salvage 1. In it, a scrap metal merchant builds himself a rocket in order to visit the Moon and reclaim all the equipment left there by the Apollo astronauts. Obviously, the economics don’t add up – the cost of the rocket would be far greater than the scrap value of a handful of Hasselblad cameras, etc. And that’s even if they were sold as “flown items”. Not to mention, of course, that the equipment would be scattered across six sites on the Moon’s near side…
Nonetheless, when you consider how few excursions the human race has made beyond the Earth, we’ve still managed to leave plenty of hard evidence of our presence across the Solar system. Not just Apollo 10’s LM, but all those space probes, for instance. Dawn is currently in orbit about Vesta in the Asteroid Belt. MESSENGER is orbiting Mercury. There’s plenty of hardware on the surface of Mars. Not to mention the Voyager and Pioneer space probes. Voyager 1 is nearly 18 billion kilometres from the Sun and will soon enter interstellar space.
Imagine some future mission to explore a part of the Solar system, and its discovery of a space probe or spacecraft and the conclusions its members might draw from it. Will they astonished by its crudity or its sophistication? Will they even know what it is? The past, they say, is a different country. While standing on the surface of Mars, or orbiting Mercury, and studying a space probe from the past, it could well appear to be an entirely alien country.