Thursday, January 8, 2009

The last Surveyor en route to the Moon

Surveyor 7 was the last of the US's unmanned probes to soft-land on the Moon. It was launched on January 7, 1968, and landed three days later on the rim of the crater Tycho. It was a fitting and spectacular end to the Surveyor series.

The key question the Surveyors needed to answer was simply, "Is there a solid surface that will support the weight of a Lunar Module (and a man)?"

Before we sent the Surveyors, we literally had no idea what the surface of the Moon would be like. Would 4 billion years of impact by microscopic meteoroids create a layer of fine dust that was several feet or more deep? We did not know. We could make educated guesses, and while most scientists believed that there was a solid surface, there was not a consensus in the scientific community. We had to find out, or we risked our astronauts getting into a dangerous situation that they could not escape.

In yet another of their Space Firsts, the USSR beat the Americans to a soft landing on the Moon by about four months, landing Luna 9 on February 3, 1966. Luna 9 was the 12th attempt at a soft landing by the Soviets. The US's Surveyor 1 landed on June 2, 1966. At least the US could claim to have been successful on its first landing attempt.

The mid-1960's vintage tie tack depicted above represents the Surveyor lander. The image below is of a Surveyor engineering test article. I took this picture in the Smithsonian's Arts & Industries Building (first home of the Air and Space Museum) in July 1971.

Looking back on this some 38 years later, I can remember how exciting it was to have a relatively "new" spacecraft (less than 5 years old) so close at hand! This same Surveyor now hangs from the ceiling in the National Air and Space Museum, barely noticeable among all the other artifacts.


Leo Horishny said...

Thank you for posting this image. I received recently some articles from a distant family member who worked at Hughes Aircraft Company, and there was one of the above tie tacks in the items.

I was 80% sure this was a Surveyor tie tack, based on some other pictures of the satellite, but your image sealed the deal.

I'll have to use it on my NASA club tie!

Leo Horishny said...

Can you tell me if this was a popular space memento, or was it something in particular to Hughes Aircraft?