Control room engineers watch closely as the spacecraft they have worked tirelessly on for months approaches the Moon. Telemetry data indicates everything is running smoothly, and landing should occur soon – then all goes silent.
Five of seven Surveyor spacecraft made successful uncrewed lunar landings and collected samples, successfully exploring its surface.
This craft was the inaugural of seven planned Surveyor landers. Construction had begun early 1962 and extensive functional and environmental tests had already taken place; balloon-borne drop tests of retrorocket equipped models had also taken place.
Surveyor 1’s gimballed television camera captured more than 86,000 70 millimeter photos during its voyage to the Moon, providing details on lunar terrain such as its number, size and distribution of craters and boulders; soil mechanics properties as well as magnetic properties were also assessed through these photographs.
The spacecraft successfully landed in the Sea of Tranquility region of the Moon, selected for its smooth terrain. Engineering sensors such as strain gauges and accelerometers recorded data to assist in investigating surface mechanical properties; additionally, performing a hop maneuver helped expand this investigation of soil mechanics properties.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created the Block II Ranger series as a response to its series of failed interplanetary probes, specifically targeting the Moon by hard landing seismometer packages on its surface. There would be three missions in total within this series.
The main spacecraft consisted of a hexagon-shaped magnesium frame bus measuring 1.52 meters across. This contained the central computer and sequencer used to operate it, as well as backup power sources like batteries for backup power, radio transmitters and attitude control systems.
From the bus extended a dish-shaped, high gain antenna of 1.22 meters diameter that connected with satellites in the Goldstone network for tracking data and could point at the Moon for the impact sequence. To protect itself against impact forces, the lander was protected with a thin shell made of balsa wood designed to absorb force of impact.
After the Surveyor missions, both NASA and the Soviets started sending manned probes into space around the Moon to conduct extensive photographic mapping for future lunar landings and test radio communications equipment.
On July 16, 1968, Apollo 11’s crew successfully launched. Three hours, 49 minutes and 35 seconds into their mission, their S-IVB stage refired for 357.5 seconds to place both CSM and LM into an elliptical lunar orbit.
Armstrong and Aldrin launched the early Apollo scientific experiments package at 109 hours 42 minutes into their mission and ranged up to 300 feet from Eagle to collect samples and take TV footage for transmission back home. Following a four-hour rest period, they returned to LM and initiated powered descent initiation maneuver.
Nothing compares to watching your own spacecraft fly through space toward its intended target planet’s surface – knowing everything’s working perfectly and knowing touchdown is imminent.
Astronauts entered the LM as standing passengers, using hook-and-loop fasteners attached to cables that clipped into their suits at waist level for safety. While inside, their eyes focused on displays showing lunar terrain while a computer managed the craft.
On extended missions (Apollo 10 and later), the Lunar Module held surface experiments, as well as a folded-up rover on its legs and battery storage compartments for portable life support system batteries. Each LM also contained three 67.2-inch-long probes which scoured the lunar surface for rocks or debris, until their probes touched down; once this happened, their commander turned off its descent engine and allowed the LM to settle to its landing spot.
After successfully crossing the translunar coast, a three-second SPS burn established an initial lunar orbit of 69 by 190 miles for Columbia/LM/Columbia. On July 18, Armstrong and Aldrin entered Eagle, as they called their LM. TV transmission began immediately as did exploration efforts.
Few hours later, they jettisoned the LM from lunar orbit while Collins remained in the CSM. Armstrong took control of its descent engine which successfully brought it down onto the surface of Sea of Tranquility.
The astronauts conducted numerous experiments, such as a solar wind composition study, seismic experiment package and laser ranging retroreflector. Additionally, they discarded equipment like hammers and scoops so that as many samples could be brought back home as possible. After 21 hours and 36 minutes on the surface they returned back to LM for extraction.