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the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon
Initially intended to be a series of robotic scientific missions, Surveyor's focus was switched to engineering in support of the Apollo program to land men on the Moon. The Surveyors tested landing techniques designed to take American astronauts safely to the Moon's surface.
The first Surveyor was launched from Cape Canaveral on May 30, 1966, and landed on the Moon on June 2, becoming the first spacecraft to make a survivable "soft" landing beyond the Earth. Surveyor 7, the last in the series, was launched on January 7, 1968. Although one Surveyor crashed into the Moon and another lost contact with Earth soon after lunar impact, the program acquired almost 90,000 images from five sites. These images would be invaluable to NASA in helping to determine the best locations for manned missions to the Moon.
Mass at Launch 2,194-2,888
All contained television cameras. Some had other tools and instruments to study lunar soil consistency and composition.
Surveyor 3 participated in the only lunar surface rendezvous when the Apollo 12 astronauts landed nearby in November 1969. The human crew visited the 2-1/2-year-old lunar station, photographed it and the site, and brought some of its parts back to Earth. The first photograph below was taken by that crew (the descriptions were added later). The second photo shows an imprint left by one of Surveyor's footpads when the probe "bounced" on the Moon's surface during landing (as seen by Apollo 12).
This page was last updated on 02/26/2017.