Thursday, June 2, 2016

50 Years Ago: Surveyor 1 Lands Safely on Moon

Lunar view from Surveyor 1 from the Oceanus Procellarum. NASA.
NASA finally did it, fifty years ago. On June 2, 1966, the Surveyor 1 lunar probe fired its retrorockets and descended down to the lunar surface after a 63.5 hour flight time from Earth. For this mission, science instruments were left off and focus was given to the important photographic and television equipment. 
Liftoff on May 30, 1966.
The flight began on May 30th from the LC-36A platform at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Propulsion was of course the venerable Atlas rocket with a Centaur second stage to take Surveyor to the Moon. This was a straight flight, there was no plan to orbit first and then land. The retrorockets slowed the vehicle down to a low altitude of about 11 feet above the surface and it dropped down onto the lunar soil. It was a little over 4 months since the Soviets had safely landed Luna 9, and this was the first success for NASA to land anywhere off the Earth.
Transmitted image of one of Surveyor's landing pads in the lunar soil.
Television transmitted images continued through July 14. Over 11,000 pictures were taken and sent back to Earth. Although no science experiments were aboard, engineering sensors relayed information about the condition of the probe and condition of the lunar surface.
In 2009, NASA's Lunar Orbiter space probe managed to locate and photograph the Surveyor 1 spacecraft still sitting on the surface of the Moon. The shadow can easily be picked out.

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