The First Ever Satellite Picture Of The Moon

In an attempt to beat Russia to land the first man on the moon, the United States sent a spacecraft into orbit to take pictures of possible moon landing spots. Reports of the first satellite picture of the moon hit the newsstands on August 15, 1966. The 850 pound Lunar Orbiter was an unmanned, photographic laboratory satellite controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The success of this satellite exceeded the expectations of the project managers. With hopes of completing an orbit in 3 hours, 36 minutes, and 12 seconds, experts were pleased to find the actual time the satellite took to orbit the moon to be 3 hours, 27 minutes, and 36 seconds. They had hoped the satellite would get within 124 miles to 1,150 miles from the Moon, but it actually came as close as 119 miles and as far as 1,160. Eventually, the orbit would allow the spacecraft to get a mere 28 miles from the surface so that close-up pictures could be taken.

On its mission, the Lunar Orbiter was a major success on many counts. The United States was able to secure the title of taking the first satellite picture of the moon. The mission also provided the ability to take pictures of nine possible landing sites for the manned Apollo mission. It proved that the United States was still in the running to win the space race, showing America’s advanced space competencies. Finally, this Orbiter success showed that it would be possible to orbit a three-man Apollo spacecraft around the moon in the near future. Russia had already orbited a spacecraft around the Moon, called the Luna 10, four months prior. However, that spacecraft was largely unsuccessful since it had no cameras and its orbit was off course and distant.

The Lunar Orbiter made a total number of 577 orbits in its 80 days in space. It took the first two pictures ever taken of the Earth from the perspective or the distance of the Moon. A total of 5 million square km of the Moon’s surface was photographed with the 42 high resolution and 187 medium resolution pictures that werer transmitted back to Earth. Unfortunately, many of the high resolution pictures were damaged, but 75% of the intended mission was completed successfully.

The mission was brought to an early end on October 29, 1966 when the Lunar Orbiter was intentionally forced to impact on the Moon’s far side. This decision was made due to the low amount of attitude control gas left in addition to the other unforeseen deterioration. NASA also did not want to cause interference with the Lunar Orbiter 2, which was launched soon thereafter on November 6, 1966. This second project continued the task of photographing potential landing sites, as well as collecting data on radiation, micrometeoroid impact, and other moon details.

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