It’s been 54 years since the U.S. soft landed on the moon

Space Science

Surveyor 1 (Photo: NASA)

MYSTERY WIRE — On this day, June 2, 1966 the United States made its first soft landing on the moon. It was Surveyor 1 that spent 2 ½ days travelling to the moon before landing on 3 legs.

This significant anniversary comes as the United States took another big step in returning to the moon, or possibly even sending a manned mission to Mars.

On May 30, a partnership between NASA and SpaceX returned the U.S. to the human launch business. The SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket took astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station.

NASA’s Surveyor 1 reached the lunar surface and became the first American spacecraft to successfully execute a soft landing on the moon. It then took more than 11,000 photos of the moon along with other measurements. But most important was it proved that NASA’s soft-landing technique and spacecraft designs worked.

Here is how NASA describes the historic mission, “Surveyor 1 was launched on 30 May 1966 at 14:41:00 UT (9:41 EST) on an Atlas/Centaur from Complex 36-A of the Eastern Test Range directly into a lunar impact trajectory. After a midcourse correction at 06:45 UT on 31 May the spacecraft reached the Moon about 63 hours after launch. At an altitude of 75.3 km and a velocity of 2612 m/s the main retrorocket, signaled by the altitude marking radar, ignited for a 40 second burn and was jettisoned at an altitude of roughly 11 km having slowed the spacecraft to 110 m/s. Descent continued with the vernier engines under control of the altimeter and doppler radars. Engines were turned off at a height of 3.4 m above the lunar surface and the spacecraft fell freely from this height. Surveyor 1 landed on the lunar surface on 2 June 1966 at 6:17:36 UT (1:17:36 a.m. EST) at about 3 m/s. The landing site was at 2.4745 S, 316.6602 E (as determined from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images) on a flat area inside a 100 km crater north of Flamsteed Crater in southwest Oceanus Procellarum.”

From 1966 to 1976, the U.S. and Soviet Union launched a total of 12 unmanned spacecraft to perform scientific operations on the surface of the moon. As of early 2019, there have been additional nations that have had unmanned crash landings on the moon.

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