These First Ever Close-Up Photos of the Moon are 50 Years Old Today

By Gerald Lynch on at

Mankind has always been able to see the Moon -- whether with the naked eye on a clear night or through a telescope, our neighbouring celestial body has always fascinated us. Were there little green men living in its craters? Was it really made out of cheese? It took until July 31st 1964 to conclusively, sadly, confirm to the public that the answer to those questions was no.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the US's successful Ranger 7 space probe mission, the first to send back high-resolution, close-up images of the Moon's surface. Launched on July 28th 1964, it was equipped with six vidicon cameras and the means to transmit the images back to Earth. It managed to transmit more than 4,300 images back to mission control in the last 17 minutes of its flight, before touching down between the Moon's Mare Nubium and Oceanus Procellarum areas. This was the first image the probe captured:

And this the last -- just half a metre from the Moon's surface (that pattern on the right hand side was caused by the probe's landing impact during transmission):

It's worth noting that the Ranger 7 wasn't the first probe to capture images of the Moon -- the USSR's Luna 3 captured the first images of the lunar farside on October 6th 1959:

As you can see however, the clarity and distance from the surface was far less impressive than the United States' effort with the Ranger 7. Considered a massive success, the mission paved the way for research that would become vital to the later Apollo Moon landings. And it also introduced a sweet NASA tradition of its own -- the "Peanut" tradition. Upon successfully finishing the Ranger 7 mission, the NASA team noticed one member tucking into a pot of peanuts. Ever since then, NASA control room teams ceremonially open a container of peanuts for a mission, hoping that it will bring good fortune to the project ahead of them.

Image Credits: Wikipedia, (2)