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The Mysterious Case Of NASA's Missing $1.1 Billion Moon Lander | Beyond Earth


NASA has released photos, videos, and audio recordings of its Apollo missions CapCom: We copy you down, Eagle

Narrator: So there's little left about these missions that we don't already know, except for one mystery that's been hiding in plain sight for decades: One of NASA's Apollo lunar modules may be missing That's right, missing And not even NASA seems to know where it is Houston: Engines on five, four, three, two, all engines running We have liftoff

Dave Mosher: Where is Lunar Module 14? What state was it in? Does anybody have it? Does anybody know where it's at? Narrator: From 1962 to 1970, NASA commissioned Grumman Aircraft to build 15 space-worthy lunar modules for its Apollo program Each one was labeled Lunar Modules 1 through 15 and cost around $150 million to make, or about $11 billion today Newscaster: Charlie Brown was selected by the astronauts as the codename for the Apollo 10 command module, and his friend Snoopy was the call sign for the lunar module Mosher: NASA launched 10 of these lunar landers into space

Six of them landed on the surface of the moon and brought the astronauts back Other four were used for practices and dry runs, future missions And there were five that were left on the ground Narrator: Three of those five that never went to space, Lunar Modules 2, 9, and 13, are in museums, which leaves us with LM-14 and 15 Lunar Module 15

Mosher: Was another lunar lander that was being built for Apollo 20, which, of course, never happened They turned it into scrap metal So that leaves us with one lunar lander, LM-14

On the Smithsonian's website, there's a page listing the lunar landers and all of their fates Lunar Module 15 is listed as scrapped, but if you go up one row and you look at Lunar Module 14, it says "Not Used" What that means, we don't know, and that's what started this adventure in the first place Narrator: To be clear, it is not easy to hide one of these landers Once complete, they're the size of a small house and weigh about 35,000 pounds

Mosher: Now, when we started looking into Lunar Module 14, things were a little weird The documents that we had access to said incomplete or not used It didn't say anything about it being scrapped It didn't say it was in any institution or museum And so we started digging into this

Narrator: NASA and the Smithsonian didn't have evidence to its whereabouts, the Cradle of Aviation Museum didn't know, and even historians at Northrop Grumman, the original manufacturers of the lunar modules, were stumped Mosher: But one of the experts that we talked to said, hey, I think it's at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia We looked into that, and it was not it It was an early prototype from the Apollo program, a lunar module that was never supposed to fly into space Narrator: And then we got a lead

Sort of Mosher: There was a document from March 1978 that is a disposition, or a list, of everything in the Apollo program What it was, what its code number was, and where it's located And that document is missing Page No 9, which is the page that describes where Lunar Module 14 would be located or what happened to it, if anything

Narrator: Yeah, it sounds exactly like some sort of Hollywood spy thriller, but this actually happened Nobody could find this document Even one of NASA's historians looked for us and couldn't locate it And the same went for the National Archives We finally got some clue as to what happened to it from University of Houston's space archive

Mosher: Hi, this is Dave Mosher with Business Insider Is this Jean? Jean: Hi Yes, it is Hi, Dave Mosher: Hi

So, I heard you found Page 9 of that document Can you read it to me, tell me what is says? Jean: Next to LM-14, it says "Mission Cancelled" Mosher: Mission canceled And then is there anything else that it says? Jean: The next column says remarks It says, "Deleted from program

" Mosher: Deleted from program [laughs] It doesn't say where it went or what happened to it? Jean: No, it does not Mosher: OK Narrator: So we were at a dead end And, to be fair, this wouldn't be the first time a moon lander has been lost to history

In 1969, the lunar lander for Apollo 10 was ejected into space as part of a dry run for Apollo 11 Newscaster: Ground contact was maintained with the ascent stage until its batteries were depleted, some 12 hours later Narrator: NASA didn't track the lander at the time, so it was missing, floating somewhere in space for decades Until, in 2019, a group of enthusiasts from the UK said they were pretty sure they found where it was floating in space So, if those guys could find a lost lunar module in the vast expanse of space, why does nobody know where a moon lander on Earth has gone? Charles Duke: OK, this has got to be the greatest sight ever

Narrator: So we had pretty much given up on uncovering the truth That was, until we got ahold of Paul Fjeld a few weeks later He's obsessed with these lunar landers Mosher: In fact, he worked with the Cradle of Aviation Museum to retrofit LM-13 into an Apollo-style landing site within the museum Narrator: So, here's what he had to say about our grand missing-lunar-lander mystery

Paul Fjeld: 14 actually never really got built I'm not gonna bet my son's life, but I'll bet a lot of money that there's not a scrap of LM-14 left Narrator: Of course, that would explain why there's no photos of it Mosher: The really revealing thing that Paul showed us was this progress chart from Grumman of the lunar landers that were under construction right before NASA canceled the entire program, and it shows that LM-14 was about 1% to 5% complete, based on Fjeld's analysis So the farthest that technicians at Grumman got was basically cutting out all of these pieces of metal and starting to assemble them, weld them together, before NASA canceled the program

We also spoke to two other space-flight-history experts, and they also think that LM-14 was scrapped, but they're not entirely certain of that Fjeld: I'm gonna say they would've said, look, we got a bunch of F-14s that are just starting to come off the line here This is what's the future for Grumman We need all the metal that we can get This is some lovely 2024 aluminum, 7075 structural aluminum

Can we use that on F-14s? Sure Narrator: So LM-14's Frankensteined pieces maybe did fly, in a way And perhaps they're in an aviation museum right now, as part of a jet Newscaster: In this strange, metallic bird rides the ancient and endless dream of all mankind Narrator: But we may never know for sure

Fjeld: I can't guarantee that, you know, some guy didn't just drive it off the lot and it's now sitting in his basement or up in an attic that his grandkids have no idea what the h— it is Who knows? [laughs]

Source: Youtube

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