The first of NASA's Surveyor unmanned probes landed on the Moon in 1966. Mission scientists and engineers used the spacecraft to study potential landing sites for future Apollo astronauts and prove that a soft landing on the lunar surface was possible.
There were five successful Surveyor flights.
Unmanned probes land on the Moon to study potential landing sites.
Apollo 12 finds hardy bacteria on an old Moon probe.
The Apollo 12 astronauts located Surveyor 3, a 1967 unmanned Moon probe, and returned a piece of it to Earth. Scientists wanted to know what effect 33 months on the Moon had had on the probe. Inside the spacecraft's camera they found droplets from a sneeze accidentally sealed into the instrument by one of its builders. The bacteria in the droplets "came back to life" once they were returned to the right conditions. This showed how hardy life can be.
Moon craters puzzle pre-Apollo 11 scientists.
There were competing theories about the origins of Moon craters before the Apollo landings. Some researchers thought that craters were volcanic in origin, something we now know is false. Others correctly theorised that Moon craters are created by impacts.
The Surveyor Program was a NASA program that, from 1966 through 1968, sent seven robotic spacecraft to the surface of the Moon. Its primary goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of soft landings on the Moon. The mission called for the craft to travel directly to the Moon on an impact trajectory, on a journey that lasted 63 to 65 hours, and ended with a deceleration of just over three minutes to a soft-landing. The program was implemented by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to prepare for the Apollo program. The total cost of the Surveyor program was officially $469 million.
Five of the Surveyor craft successfully soft-landed on the moon, including the first one. The other two failed: Surveyor 2 crashed at high velocity after a failed mid-course correction, and Surveyor 4 was lost to contact (possibly exploding) 2.5 minutes before its scheduled touch-down.
All seven spacecraft are still on the Moon; none of the missions included returning them to Earth. Some parts of Surveyor 3 were returned to Earth by the crew of Apollo 12, which landed near it in 1969. The camera from this craft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
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