Image of Ranger 3 spacecraft
NASA/Space Science Data Center
The seven Ranger missions of the early 1960's were the first U.S. attempt to obtain close-up pictures of the Moon. Each spacecraft was to fly straight down to the Moon's surface and return photographs until being destroyed on impact.
Only the Ranger 7, 8, and 9 missions in 1964 and 1965 were successful, each returning thousands of photographs of the lunar surface during their last few minutes of flight. The photos were highly detailed, with resolution 1000 times better than that of Earth-based observations. Neither Ranger 3 or 5 were able to impact the Moon, while Rangers 4 and 6 reached its surface but didn't return any images.
The Ranger missions were useful for the planners of the Surveyor and Apollo programs, showing them that a safe landing site on the Moon would be hard to find.
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