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1962: First US rocket lands on Moon

The American Moon rocket Ranger IV has landed on the far side of the moon but has failed to send back pictures due to a technical fault.

It is the first time an American spacecraft has successfully reached the Moon - the Russians achieved the first ever lunar impact in 1959.

However, the main aim of the mission - to take television pictures of the lunar surface - was not achieved after all internal power on board the spacecraft failed two hours after launch.

The Ranger IV Atlas-Agena rocket, which took off from Cape Canaveral on 23 April, is one of the most sophisticated space machines ever developed.

Crash-land

It was specifically designed to crash-land on the Moon after capturing a series of images of the lunar surface on its approach.

The television pictures on board were designed to begin operating when the rocket came within 2,500 miles (4,023km) of the lunar surface - 40 minutes before impact - and then send an image of the Moon back to Earth every 13 seconds.

After the loss of internal power the spacecraft could only be tracked using the tiny radio transmitter in the lunar capsule. This is how scientists confirmed it had actually reached the Moon.

The latest mission was identical to that of Ranger III, which launched on 26 January this year.

But the expected pictures from that mission were not produced because the rocket missed the Moon by 22,862 miles (36,793km).

Nasa scientists will be hugely disappointed by this latest failure as a successful mission would have given them the first ever close-up images of the mysterious lunar surface.

Ranger IV was also equipped with a seismometer and radio transmitter, designed to be released in a small capsule from the rocket before impact and land on the Moon in sufficiently good condition to measure the frequency of natural earthquakes in the body of the Moon.

Images from this would have been sent back to Earth for up to 30 days for vital research.

In Context
The Ranger rockets marked a new phase in space exploration and were a significant part of America's attempt to be the first to put a man on the Moon.

The first six Rangers failed, some of them missing the moon entirely.

Finally, on 31 July 1964, Ranger VII sent back more than 4,000 images before crashing into the Moon's Mare Cognitum (Known Sea).

The closest images, taken only seconds before impact, showed features as small as a few feet across.

Ranger VIII repeated the feat in February 1965, while Ranger IX brought a successful end to the programme in March 1965.

Altogether, these three Rangers gave scientists a new understanding of the lunar surface and helped pave the way for the Apollo astronauts.


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