This Week in Space – February 17, 1965 – NASA Launches Ranger 8 Lunar Probe
This week in 1965, NASA launched Ranger 8, part of the series of nine Ranger spacecraft launched in the early 1960s to explore the moon.
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Ranger 8 returned 7,137 lunar surface photographs before it crashed into the moon as planned. These pictures helped select landing sites for the later Apollo missions to land Americans on the lunar surface.
The spacecraft consisted of a hexagonal aluminum frame base 1.5 meters across on which were mounted the propulsion and power units, topped by a truncated conical tower that held the television cameras.
The cameras were six television vidicon cathode ray tubes, two wide-angle and four narrow-angle. The final image taken before impact has a resolution of 1.5 meters.
Diagram of Ranger 8. Courtesy NASA/JPL
According to NASA “Ranger 8 impacted the moon only 24 kilometers from its target in the Sea of Tranquility, an area that was of particular interest to Apollo mission planners. Images from the mission, which detailed the kind of terrain and obstacles that a human explorer might encounter, paved the way for future human exploration of the moon.”
An image of the moon taken by the Ranger 8 space probe, showing the craters Ritter and Sabine. Courtesy NASA/JPL