Lunar Orbiter Engineering Mockup.
Fifty years ago, in February 1967, NASA pressed on with the preparations for the Apollo missions despite the recent deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts. The purpose of the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft was to photograph potential landing sites for the Apollo missions expected to occur within the next few years. This particular spacecraft, Lunar Orbiter 3, blasted off from pad LC-19 at Cape Kennedy (Canaveral) on February 5, 1967.
Lunar Orbiter 3's ride: Atlas-Agena D.
The Atlas rocket was basically the same as those which powered America's first orbital manned missions. The Agena second stage was a fueled and powered-up version of the Agena target vehicles used during the Gemini program. The orbiter itself was built at the Langley facility in Virginia, recently featured in the movie, "Hidden Figures."
Liftoff from Pad LC-19.
Blast off took place before dawn and the rocket lifted the Agena into position where its motors pushed the spacecraft fast enough to defeat Earth's gravity. The Orbiter reached the Moon on February 8. The camera recorded lunar images from February 15 to 23. Over 500 images were taken.
Image from Lunar Orbiter 3.
Image quality was very good, so much so that one image managed to pinpoint the landing spot for Surveyor 1. The spacecraft stayed in orbit in a gradually decaying orbit when it struck the lunar surface in October 1967.