Surveyor Project

NASA's highly successful Surveyor Project began in 1960. It consisted of seven robot lander spacecraft that were launched between May 1966 and

Lunar Surveyor Spacecraft
NASA's Surveyor spacecraft was a robot lander that explored the Moon's surface from 1966 to 1968, in preparation for the lunar landing missions of the Apollo astronauts (1969-72). (NASA) / (Note: Drawing does not show main retro rocket.)

January 1968, as a precursor to the human expeditions to the lunar surface in the Apollo Project. These robot lander craft were used to develop soft-landing techniques, to survey potential Apollo mission landing sites, and to improve scientific understanding of the Moon.

The Surveyor 1 spacecraft was launched on May 30, 1966, and soft-landed in the Ocean of Storms region of the Moon. It found the bearing strength of the lunar soil was more than adequate to support the Apollo Project lander spacecraft (called the lunar module, or LM). This contradicted the then-prevalent hypothesis that the LM might sink out of sight in the fine lunar dust. The Surveyor 1 spacecraft also telecast many pictures from the lunar surface.

The Surveyor 3 spacecraft was launched on April 17, 1967, and soft-landed on the side of a small crater in another region of the Ocean of Storms. This robot spacecraft used a shovel attached to a mechanical arm to dig a trench and discovered that the load-bearing strength of the lunar soil increased with depth. It also transmitted many pictures from the lunar surface.

The Surveyor 5 spacecraft was launched on September 8, 1967, and soft-landed in the Sea of Tranquility. An alpha particle-scattering device on board this craft examined the chemical composition of the lunar soil and revealed a similarity to basalt on Earth.

The Surveyor 6 was launched on November 7, 1967, and soft-landed in the Sinus Medii (Central Bay) region of the Moon. In addition to performing soil-analysis experiments and taking many images of the lunar surface, this spacecraft also performed an extremely critical "hop experiment." NASA engineers back on Earth remotely fired the Surveyors vernier rockets to launch it briefly above the lunar surface. The spacecraft's launch did not create a dust cloud and resulted only in shallow cratering. This important demonstration indicated that the Apollo astronauts could safely lift off from the lunar surface with their rocket-propelled craft (upper portion of the lunar module [LM]), when their surface exploration mission was completed.

Finally, the Surveyor 7 spacecraft was launched on January 7, 1968, and landed in a highland area of the Moon, near the crater Tycho. Its alpha particle-scattering device showed that the lunar highlands contained less iron than the soil found in the mare regions (lunar plains). Numerous images of the lunar surface also were returned.

Despite the fact that the Surveyor 2 and 4 spacecraft crashed on the Moon (rather than soft-landed and functioned), the overall Surveyor Project was extremely successful and paved the way for the human-crewed Apollo surface expeditions that occurred between 1969 and 1972.

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