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Forty-seven years ago today, NASA’s Ranger 8 spacecraft successfully completed a mission to obtain high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface.  The flight was the penultimate mission in the Ranger Program, the goal of which was to help scientists better understand the topography of potential Apollo lunar landing sites.  Ranger 8’s mission began with launch from LC-12 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday, 17 February 1965.  The Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle placed Ranger 8 along a direct hyperbolic trajectory that would allow the spacecraft to intercept the Moon nearly 65 hours later.  The mission aim point was situated in the Mare Tranquilitatis region of the lunar surface.  All of the action would take place in the final 23 minutes of flight as a complement of six (6) vidicon cameras snapped photos all the way to impact.  A pair of the cameras featured a full scan capability; one wide-angle, one narrow-angle.  The remaining four (4) cameras were partial scan systems; two wide-angle, two narrow-angle.  Ranger 8 arrived at the Moon on Saturday, 20 February 1965.  The first of 7,137 high-resolution photos was taken at an altitude of 1,388 nm above the lunar surface.  The last photo, featuring a resolution of about 5 feet, was imaged when the Ranger 8 spacecraft was only 525 feet above the surface; a mere 0.09 seconds before a 6,000-mph impact with the Moon.  Impact occurred only 10 nm from the mission aim point.  This was exceptional accuracy considering the trip from Earth was over 205,000 nm.  While Ranger 8’s mission was brief and its end violent, the photographic bounty transmitted back to Earth helped make possible America’s first manned lunar landing on Sunday, 20 July 1969.  The landing site?  None other than Mare Tranquilitatis.

Posted in Aerospace, History

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