Is Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Still In Orbit Around The Moon 52 Years Later?

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In 1969 Neil Armstrong announced a safe touchdown on the moon with the words ‘The Eagle has Landed’. “Eagle” was the name of the Lunar Module, the spacecraft which carried Neil and Buzz to the surface of the moon. After they walked on the surface of the moon they flew the Eagle back into orbit, docked with the Columbia command module and undocked the Eagle, leaving it in orbit while Columbia returned to Earth.
Most spacecraft in lunar orbit suffer from instability in their orbits due to the ‘lumpy’ nature of the lunar gravity which tends to cause the orbits to eventually get so elliptical that they hit the moon.
However, an amateur space fan wanted to narrow down the possible impact location and used orbit modelling software to propagate the orbit forwards in time until it hit the moon. He was surprised to find that it didn’t hit the moon, and remained in a stable orbit for decades, this suggests that the Eagle may still be orbiting the moon over 5 decades after being left there.

Here’s the paper:
Long-term Orbit Stability of the Apollo 11 Eagle Lunar Module Ascent Stage
James Meador
https://arxiv.org/abs/2105.10088

And his github with the scripts for GMAT
https://github.com/RogerTwank/Eagle

NASA’s GMAT software:
https://sourceforge.net/projects/gmat/

The thread in Unmannedspaceflight.com showing processing of ingenuity images.
http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=8610&st=390&start=390

Seán Doran’s youtube
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC28l88GMXXqZYfY0Ru9h50w

Comments:
  1. Lucid Moses

    Holy cow man, That one was interesting.

  2. Matthew Clina

    Don’t forget that Andy Griffith went up there and brought back all the moon junk in 1979.

  3. George Rae

    Imagine standing on the moon and the lander silently flys by just missing you. What would you scream in your helmet? Wonder what an alien would say😎

  4. Mr Byamile

    4:38 The terminology of sea level used regarding the lunar surface is interesting, surfing on the sea of tranquility.

  5. Lynn Geek

    Was the pressure from sunlight among the variables included in the calculations?

  6. Paul Orchard

    Incredible, imagine if it was ever recovered! Judging by this video it’s possible, and could continue orbiting for another 10000 years! NASA expected it crash within a few months! Amazing!

  7. Fourth Root

    Mission: Recover Aldrin’s Derelict from low lunar orbit

  8. Alex

    That’s wonderful to think, when you look up at the moon, that the lunar module is still probably orbiting the moon all those years later.

  9. Finn Thirud

    I love your call to action at the end of the video! Truly inspirational.

  10. falcore91

    So looking at how close to the moon those orbits do go I’m curious: could you be standing on the moon one day, see an unpowered object like the Apollo module seem to come right at you then just veer off to a higher elevation?

  11. Guilherme Furst

    “When you search or watch videos related to topics prone to misinformation, such as the moon landing, you may see an information panel at the top of your search results or under a video you’re watching.”

    Thanks Scott, what are you now, spreading misinformation? Making #fakenews?

  12. A.J. Steinman

    So this historically significant vehicle, they just decided to stop tracking almost immediately?

  13. Martin

    I wonder what the chances are of the next mission to the moon being affected by stuff still in orbit are?

  14. Tony Lalangue

    This is an excellent post, Scott. Maybe it will spark some peoples’ imaginations.

  15. Thiago Ennes

    6:30 That is clearly the addition of two waves, I guess the frequency of one of them represents the orbit period and the magnitude is how elliptical it is. but which one (higher or lower)? also, what does the second frequency represents??? should we fast Fourier it? lol.

  16. Diseasel

    It must be nice being a mars rover driver. You get a break after every input.

  17. Peter Lanham

    So typical of the top quality content from Scott. Informative and inspirational. Fantastic.

  18. Steve Dittman

    Hi Scott! Really random question here: What is it that you do for a 9 to 5 job? I have always wondered what it is that you do professionally and I have done my best to figure out through the backlog of videos what is you do for work. Apologies in advance for asking a question off topic

  19. protoword

    It’s require a lot of work to cook all these data and let us know all possibilities! Thank you!

  20. Antonio Maglione

    Wow, Montecarlo simulation applied to orbits!
    Thank you Mr. Manley – it would be fantastic if one day we could recover the ascent module of the Apollo 11 LEM…

  21. Togidubnus

    Most excellent, Sir. I’ve rather had my fill this week of Branson espousing that space is now for everyone, as a brief joyride on his overpriced sub-orbital crate.It’s refreshing to be reminded of how space can be for all of us, in a way that is far more enriching.

  22. Joseph J Boyle

    Really great comments at the end too. Inspiring.

  23. Ivan Pchelin

    It’s a really inspiring message, thanks for the video.

  24. Dominick Gervasi

    Thank you for the uplifting message!

  25. Jim Cumming

    I though it has been returned to the landing site by the Historical Sticklers Society

  26. Manly McManface

    Does it fit inside Starship’s cargo bay? Asking for a friend.

  27. Pete M

    So inspiring, Scotty, thank you.

    Once recovered, where would it end… after a swift DNA test would we find who left “that deposit” in the capsule (sorry)?

    I listen to your analysis of the “first words said on the moon” at worst monthly, usually weekly, it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

  28. Jeriku

    So, could the landing module fit in a starship? Just saying..

  29. Wolfgang Feist

    Yes – science for the people… love it!

  30. Craig Elliott

    Always think about the things we’ve left on the moon and Mars. Someday, tranquility base will probably be a lunar museum… and someone, somewhere, sometime will probably get to look at the Mars rovers and ingenuity in a museum, imagining the days when we could only send robots there…

  31. zynius

    me: what an awesome tool, but what about error accumulation over 50 years? impossible to predict!!!
    scott: hold my beer!

  32. Patrick L

    Sadly, there are a lot of unknown variables here and the moon only has to get lucky once.

  33. Skyrat

    Hmmm… daft question, is astro-archaeology a thing now and is this an example of it?

  34. Dutch Universe

    Just imagine if starship recovers it and reunites the craft with buzz after all this time

  35. Ilzee

    I still think landing on the moon in ’69 was really nice.

  36. Sky Bound

    What I find amazing (aside Apollo) is the GMAT software. The amount of R&D gone into by standing on the shoulders of giants such as Newton and Einstein

  37. Richard Ireson - Musician

    Imagine being on the moon looking at Eagle skimming past!🙂

  38. Sam Ferguson

    You know, I’d love to see you do a GMAT tutorial series.

  39. Kirk Claybrook

    Well when Elon goes and picks up his roadster maybe he could grab the lander on his way back

  40. Valery0p 5

    Ah yes, we need planetary radar, like the Arecibo telescope 🥲

  41. HeroDoezYT

    It woule be really cool if its still there!

  42. 61Ldf

    Scott, I really do appreciate your final conclusion today. Experience and insight created by ones own studies will last for decades if not the whole life,

  43. Bo Soerjadi

    Thanks Scott, for telling us about GMAT and other interesting software that Nasa has made available. Perhaps it’s an idea for an episode dedicated to publicly available Nasa software?

  44. Darrell Hart

    Just to find it would be something else after all these years.

  45. DCS Flighttraining

    “Space is for everyone” is one of the most empowering statements I have heard in a while. Thanks!

  46. Sprint and Hillclimb

    This week on things I haven’t thought about. Mega interesting video as ever.

  47. larry785

    I imagine the first return mission to the moon will be delayed until they find this thing.

  48. Eloquent Sarcasm

    As a kid, we actually had one of the Apollo capsules in the park near my house. We used to love trying to peek inside until some knuckleheads decided it was “too dangerous” for kids to clamber around on and it was removed. The entire neighborhood was named after astronauts, Cooper Ct/Cernan Ct/Glenn Trail/White Trail/etc. Growing up there was what got me into everything space related, and that enthusiasm has carried thru my entire life.

  49. George Morris

    Wow! An especially excellent video making known a most unexpected and most important result!

  50. WireTamer

    Absolutely billiant. Warms the cockels of my lagrange point.

  51. Arthur Farrow

    Apollo 16’s LM was also in a low inclination orbit, like that of Apollo 11

  52. Darryl frost

    Good old Monte Carlo simulations, the engineers friend! Would have been good to use that term..

  53. Funet Kopio

    That’s so cool! And I love the inspirational take at the end :)

  54. VonBek2009

    A question I didn’t know I needed the answer…until now ! 😃👍

  55. BixbyConsequence

    Don’t we have equipment that could detect the reflected light from the module as it transits one of the dark maria, in similar fashion to how we detect exoplanets as they transit their stars?

  56. MoonDustLisa

    My daughter was named after the lunar orbiter laser altimeter – Lola 🙌

  57. Simon Bunker

    It’s great to see this citizen science. It would be nice to see some other software that NASA has released.

  58. Appropinquat

    This is great! It’s so good to hear that the lander might still be out there.

  59. bconneau

    10:00 question : now that arrecibo is down, what kind of planetary radar capacity do we have left ?

  60. Simon Wiltshire

    I look at posts like this and realise how bloody clever some people are!

  61. J R

    Scott….Your KSP is showing: ” …then we’re pretty sure the spacecraft is gonna have an interaction”

  62. Andrea Meleri

    That would be really worth checking and I know you have a high profile public, so I am hoping for the best.

  63. Obsolete

    The ascent stage for Apollo 16 LM Orion was meant to be intentionally deorbited but a missed circuit breaker meant NASA ground controllers were unable to control the stage and command it to deorbit. It would be interesting to see someone plug its last known orbital elements into that program and see where it ended up.

  64. Alexander Maloney

    Fantastic video again Scott! I love how democratised these tools are for everyone’s use!

  65. Chester Snapdragon McPhis

    It will be an interesting artifact for future “space anthropologists” to “discover”. Just think of the science gained by the readily bagged poo!

  66. Canzandridas Joe

    I would like to hear more about that rover driver!

  67. 何抒扬

    “We are giving out the human landers for free on the moon surface.”
    “I was considering to take that back to museum , but I don’t know if worth the effort since I don’t know how long homo sapiens will last when I reach the center of milk way~lol””

  68. DME EMD

    this was a DAMN good episode!

  69. Matt Jensen

    Loved your message at the end about space being for everyone, in a way I hadn’t considered before

  70. seth1422

    The Eagle would sit quite nicely next to the X-1 and the Spirit of St. Louis in that amazing entry room at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

  71. Shuba Murthy

    GMAT looks insanely promising! Thanks Scott

  72. Ed S

    Another amazing subject put into focus with infectious passion. Thank you.

  73. Vidmantas G

    Thank you, Scott, for your research and that finishing line!

  74. Broadwaymungo

    If they can find it, they MUST attempt to retrieve it. It’s literally priceless.

  75. Obsolete

    Me at the beginning of the video: “He’s going to explain that Eagle’s orbit decayed because of lumpy looney lunar gravity.”

    Me at the end of the video: “My mind has been opened significantly.”

  76. Spaceman Tarian

    When Scott Manley said “fly save” I think the Eagle must have heard him.

  77. Spaceman Tarian

    8:14 for those that don’t know astronomical terminology ‘perturbing forces’ pretty much means slight orbital changes in velocity due to gravitation to those other celestial bodies (earth and sun).

  78. Jonah Woodside

    build a museum on the moon and have this be one of the exhibits

  79. Shep 1623

    Ok hear me out: starship goes and gets and brings it back

  80. CoolReeb

    The internet managed to track down a Minecraft seed using a single low resolution screenshot. I wonder if we could harness that power to track down the Ascent Module around the moon or if there are any undocumented crash sites in LRO data

  81. gwydion75

    You’re such a badass, Scott. I’m so blessed to have watched you all these years. You’re an inspiration.

  82. paladisious

    Imagine if it could be found or even recovered before Buzz Aldrin dies.

  83. rallycsx

    Scott, your videos always deliver! Thank you for everything you do!

  84. Richard Purves

    Amateur space fan. Computer expert. Silicon Valley. It’s you isn’t it Scott? ;)

  85. Matt Fields

    I’ll be dipped! It would have thought it hit the moon shortly after the mission got back to earth.

  86. Backyard Bushcraft

    LOVE the message here!! I too started out my interest in space science by using open source astronomical data processing tools and associated data and highly recommended it to anyone.

  87. OtakuMage

    First Starship mission to the moon: Pull a “You Only Live Twice”, stuff Eagle into the cargo bay, and bring it home.

  88. Al T

    This is really incredible that these tools are available, and I’m incredibly glad that people are making good use out of them! Perhaps if we find Eagle, we can send a cargo starship out to bring her home.

  89. Rafael Teleginski

    A: Sir, whats your occupation?

    B: I’m a Mars rover driver.

  90. Ronald Leckfor

    What about effects of solar storms, could that have deorbited it? Another question is are there any documented crash sites picked up by the High resolution LRO Moon Surface Survey from a few years ago, that might explain where it crashed if it did?

  91. I have a name

    Damn, this is really awesome.

    I’ve always assumed that the lunar module was long gone with the only hope being Apollo 10, but knowing that Apollo 11 could still be in orbit is crazy.

  92. Mark MacDonald

    I clicked on this thinking Scott was going to tell me where it hit. Wow!

  93. walkgeo

    Hmmm so there’s a chance that Jeb is still stuck around the Mun!! I’ll have to go back and look!! LOL

  94. Steve Pirie

    Great subject, would be very cool to find what happened to all the left behind craft.

  95. Not A studio Productions

    We can never have too much Apollo content

  96. RyanRising

    Hey, wait, Betteridge’s law of headlines! You’re not allowed to say “Maybe.”

  97. Commerce USA

    Too neat! Would be cool to recapture that piece of history, for all mankind. SpaceX? You surely catch Scott Manly, how about it?

  98. Jay Smith

    I love this topic. Thanks Scott!

  99. James Bunn

    amazing if it’s still out there – it would be great to recover it

  100. hemant kumar

    Scott your videos are really good , they look better then Nat geo documentaries. Keep up the great work 👍👍👍👍

Comments are closed.