The crew of Apollo 10, from the left, Eugene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford are photographed while at the Kennedy Space Center. In the background is the Apollo 10 space vehicle on Launch Pad 39 B, The three crewmen had just completed a Countdown Demonstration Test exercise on May 13, 1969. Image Credit: NASA

Launch Date May 18, 1969
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA | Launch Complex 39A
Destination Earth’s Moon
Type Orbiter (Human Crew)
Status Successful
Nation United States
Alternate Names


Demonstrate the capabilities of astronauts, space vehicle, and mission-support facilities during a lunar mission and to evaluate lunar-module performance in the lunar environment. The mission was a full “dry run” for the Apollo 11 mission, in which all operations except the actual lunar landing were performed.


All primary objectives were achieved. Apollo 10 conducted a full dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 lunar-landing mission. In addition, the mission enabled the Manned Space Flight Network to provide a more accurate description of the irregular lunar gravitational field by tracking the spacecraft as it orbited the Moon.


Commander: Thomas P. Stafford

Command module (Charlie Brown) pilot: John W. Young

Lunar module (Snoopy) pilot: Eugene A. Cernan

Key Dates

May 18, 1969: Launch

May 21, 1969: Lunar orbit insertion

May 24, 1969: Lunar departure

May 26, 1969: Recovery on Earth

In Depth

Apollo 10 was the second flight of a human crew to the Moon and the dress rehearsal for the next Apollo mission, in which astronauts would first walk on the lunar surface. Using a test version of the lunar module (LM), the crew would try many of the maneuvers that Apollo 11 would perform, short of actually landing on the Moon.

The spacecraft lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on May 18, 1969. Just two and a half months earlier, Apollo 9 had conducted exercises in Earth orbit with a similar lunar-module stand-in. In another eight weeks and three days, Apollo 11 -- the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s call to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade -- was to be launched.

The Apollo 10 crew was the first in the U.S. space-flight program to consist entirely of experienced astronauts. Commander Thomas P. Stafford and command-module pilot John W. Young had each flown two missions in Earth orbit as part of the Gemini program; lunar-module pilot Eugene A. Cernan had flown one.

After a three-day cruise, Apollo 10 entered lunar orbit. On the mission’s fourth day, Stafford and Cernan entered the lunar module, undocked it from the command module, and began their descent. They dropped to within 47,000 feet (about 14 kilometers) of the lunar surface, tantalizingly close.

According to George Mueller, who was associate administrator of NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight at the time, “There had been some speculation about whether or not the crew might have landed, having gotten so close. They might have wanted to, but it was impossible for that lunar module to land. It was an early design that was too heavy for a lunar landing, or, to be more precise, too heavy to be able to complete the ascent back to the command module. It was a test module, for the dress rehearsal only, and that was the way it was used.”

They spent more than six and a half hours flight-testing the LM’s communications, propulsion, attitude-control and radar systems. They took numerous photos of the lunar terrain, especially the planned landing sites. And when these exercises were finished, they jettisoned the LM’s descent stage and returned to orbit to dock once again with the command module.

While Stafford and Cernan guided the lunar module into position, Young monitored the procedure with sextant and radio ranging, ready to use the command module to control the docking if the lunar module failed. When re-docking was completed, Stafford and Cernan moved back into the command module and the astronauts jettisoned the LM into its own orbit around the Sun.

On the final day at the Moon, after further surveying and navigation-related tasks, the crew fired the rockets that would propel them out of lunar orbit and send them home. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 16, 1969, some 400 miles (640 kilometers) east of American Samoa and 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) from the recovery ship USS Princeton.

The Apollo 10 Command Module "Charlie Brown" is on display at the Science Museum, London, England.


Launch Vehicle: Saturn 5

Spacecraft Mass: 63,568 pounds (28,834 kilograms)

Spacecraft Instruments:

Photographic studies. Apollo 10 carried photographic equipment and materials to (1) obtain photographs of the transposition, docking, lunar module (LM) ejection maneuver, and LM rendezvous sequence from both the command and lunar modules; (2) obtain photos of the lunar ground track and of Landing Site 2 from the low point of the LM flight path; (3) record operational activities of the crew; and (4) obtain long-distance Earth and lunar-terrain photographs.

Additional Resources

NASA: Apollo

NASA History Program Office: The Apollo Program

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

Apollo Flight Journal

Apollo Expeditions to the Moon

Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions

Lunar and Planetary Institute: Apollo Missions

Apollo: Where Are They Now?

NASA Astronaut Biographies: Former Astronauts

Selected References

Siddiqi, Asif A. Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, NASA, 2002.

Additional Images

Related News