Ranger 1 on display before launch day.
Fifty years ago, America began its first true attempts to explore the Moon. The Ranger series of space probes was designed to reach the moon, orbit, and take photos and sensor readings of the surface. Ranger 1 itself was designed to go into a large Earth orbit to test the equipment and features of the spacecraft, and to examine the properties of space between the Earth and the Moon.
Schematic of Ranger 1.
On board the Ranger 1 were several telescopes, radiation detectors, particle detectors and a magnetometer. Of course the craft was also provided with a solar panel power supply and communications system.
Agena second stage being connected to an Atlas rocket.
To place Ranger 1 in its orbit, NASA decided to use the Agena second stage motor placed on an Atlas D rocket. Atlas D is the same rocket which would be used to launch the next manned mission. In the actual launch however, problems developed. In fact, before launch on August 23rd there were eight prior attempts which were cancelled due to equipment problems. When it finally did take off, the Atlas rocket performed well, but the Agena second stage failed to ignite, placing the Ranger 1 in a low Earth orbit and the spacecraft began to tumble. Its decaying orbit ensured that Ranger 1 would burn up in the atmosphere on August 30. Although the mission orbital goal was not achieved, scientists did have enough time to test out the equipment in the environment of space, which would help them prepare for the next Ranger mission.