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1969: Apollo 10 gets bird's eye view of Moon
Two US astronauts aboard Apollo 10 are on their way back to the safety of their mother ship after their lunar module came to within eight nautical miles (14kms) of the Moon's surface.

Colonel Thomas Stafford and Commander Eugene Cernan were carrying out a rehearsal for a planned Moon landing this summer.

They were in the lunar module (LM) nicknamed Snoopy and are now about to rejoin the command module (aka Charlie Brown) piloted by Commander John Young 50 miles (80km) above the Moon.

The two spacemen came closer than any human being has come to a celestial body.

"Snoopy" made two passes over the planned landing site for Apollo 11 before making a successful rendez-vous with "Charlie Brown".

After the first sweep at six times the speed of sound, Col Stafford said they had taken so many photographs he feared the camera had jammed while trying to change the film.

We just saw earthrise - the Earth appearing over the edge of the lunar horizon - and it's got to be magnificent
Commander Eugene Cernan
If the mission fails to bring back still shots of possible landing sites and approaches it will be a serious blow to Apollo planners. They want to make sure astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have a safe landing this July in Apollo 11.

But Col Stafford did manage to get a good view of the surface which he described as "very smooth, like wet clay".

Commander Cernan then reported to control at Houston: "We just saw earthrise - the Earth appearing over the edge of the lunar horizon - and it's got to be magnificent. It would be nice to be here more often."

Apollo 10 was launched four days ago from Cape Kennedy. It is the fourth manned Apollo launch within seven months.

It is hoped that the mission will bring back plenty of colour stills and moving images of the Moon and views of the Earth.

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Apollo 10 command module pictured by lunar command module
The Apollo 10 mission is a dress rehearsal for a July moon landing

In Context
When America decided to land men on the moon cautious astronomers pointed out that the surface could hold unknown dangers - huge boulders could topple any landing craft, a seemingly smooth surface might be covered with moondust so deep it would swallow up a spacecraft.

The Ranger programme sent rockets onto a collision course with the Moon and sent back images of the surface but left scientists none the wiser.

It was not until the Russians succeeded in landing Luna 9 in 1966 - followed soon after by the Americans' Surveyor soft-landers - that the deep-dust theory could be brushed aside.

Apollo 10 did succeed in bringing back the best images yet seen of the Moon and Earth from space.

Apollo 11 successfully landed Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the Moon on 21 July 1969.

Eugene Cernan became the last man to land on the Moon on the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.

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