The Mysterious Case Of NASA’s Missing $1.1 Billion Moon Lander | Beyond Earth
The Mysterious Case Of NASA’s Missing $1.1 Billion Moon Lander, 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.