Courtesy of NASA/NSSDC


There were nine Ranger missions between 1961 and 1964, the first U.S. attempt to get close-up images of the Moon’s surface. The Ranger spacecraft were designed to fly straight toward the Moon and send back images from their six onboard cameras until the moment of impact. For various reasons, the first six missions failed, but Ranger 7, 8, and 9 were successful.

(Ranger 7) July 28, 1964;(Ranger 8) February 17, 1965; (Ranger 9) March 21, 1965

Arrival and End of Mission
(Ranger 7) July 31, 1964;(Ranger 8) February 20, 1965; (Ranger 9) March 24, 1965

Take close-up images of the Moon’s surface to scout possible landing sites for manned missions.

Images from Ranger 7, 8 and 9 provided 1000 times better resolution than Earth-based views. These highly detailed images showed Apollo planners that a smooth landing site was not going to be easy to find. Ranger 7 struck mare terrain modified by crater rays. Ranger 8 also struck mare terrain, but in an area with a complex system of ridges. Ranger 9 hit a large crater in the lunar highlands. The Ranger images showed one important thing: the Moon's surface was littered with impact craters down to the smallest size measurable.

The success of Ranger 7, 8, and 9 had more profound implications—it gave the United States space program the sound footing needed to move forward to the Moon and the planets beyond.