Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lunar Probes

There were voices raised in protest, both in the political and scientific communities. Why try to put men on the moon, when unmanned probes could tell as much or more—and accomplish the mission with far less expense and danger?
The Russians had successfully launched the first lunar probe, Luna 2, on September 12, 1959, targeting and hitting the moon with it. Luna 3, launched the following month, on October 4, 1959, made the first circumnavigation of the moon
and transmitted back to Earth civilization’s first photographs of the Moon’s mysterious far side.
Another Soviet lunar first would come on January 31, 1966, when Luna 9 made a successful lunar soft landing—as opposed to a destructive impact.
In 1961, the United States launched the first of the Ranger series of nine unmanned lunar probes, hitting the moon with Ranger 4 in 1962 and orbiting it, with Rangers 7, 8, and 9, during 1964–1965. These last three missions generated some 17,000 high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface, not only valuable as astronomy, but indispensable as a prelanding survey.
From 1966 to 1968, seven Surveyor probes made lunar landings (not all successful), took photographs, sampled the lunar soil, and performed environmental analysis. Surveyor 6 (launched on November 7, 1967) landed on the lunar surface, took photographs, then lifted off, moved eight feet, landed again, and took more photographs. It was the first successful lift-off from an extraterrestrial body. The Lunar Orbiter series, five orbital missions launched during 1966–1967, mapped much of the lunar surface in 1,950 wide-angle and high-resolution photographs. These images were used to select the five primary landing sites for the manned Apollo missions.

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