July 31: Birthday for Lunar Images!

Ranger 7's first image of the lunar surface, July 31, 1964. Credit: NASA

On this day in 1964 NASA’s Ranger 7 became the first US spacecraft to capture close-up images of the Moon’s surface. The first image, shown here, was 1,000 times clearer than anything ever previously seen.

The spacecraft, launched on July 28, 1964, arrived at the Moon three days later and turned on its cameras 17 minutes before impacting the lunar surface northwest of the Sea of Clouds. The images it returned showed NASA scientists that areas of the Moon’s surface would indeed be suitable for a manned landing – but finding the “right” spots would be crucial.

Five years later the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong onto the Moon. But without images like this from unmanned reconnaissance craft like Rangers 7, 8 and 9 (1 through 6 failed for various reasons) the Apollo landings may never have been possible.

Read more about the historic but little-known Ranger spacecraft here.