Automatic probes

In order to answer these questions, NASA developed three series of automatic probes, each of which would add more to our understanding of the Moon and help to answer some of the questions that still hung over the Apollo programme. The first of these were the relatively unambitious Rangers. These were succeeded by the more accomplished Surveyors and Lunar Orbiters.

The aim of the Ranger programme, which began in Jaunuary 1961, was to crash-land probes on the Moon, sending back photographs up to the moment omni directional antenna

of impact. However, problems plagued the early launches. Rangers 1 and 2, intended for testing in Earth orbit, never even got that far after their launch vehicles failed. Ranger 3 missed the Moon entirely, while Ranger 4 hit its target, but was crippled at launch and did not return any data. Ranger 5 was both disabled and missed its target, while Ranger 6 had a near-perfect flight except for a failure of its cameras.

Things came right in 1964 when Ranger 7 returned more than 4,300 pictures before impact just south of Copernicus crater. Rangers 8 and 9 were also successes, crashing in the Sea of Tranquillity and the Alphonsus crater respectively. They gave a good look at the lunar surface and solved a mystery - some of the Moon's craters were so small that they could only be the result of asteroids collisions.

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