Today in 1966: Lunar Orbiter I Launched to Map our Moon

Earth was seen from the Moon for the first time by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. (NASA/LPI/USGS)

A test version of a Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. (Eric Long, National Air & Space Museum)

On August 10, 1966, NASA’s Lunar Orbiter I launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas-Agena D rocket, the flagship spacecraft of a program designed to map the Moon and investigate intended landing sites for the planned Apollo landings, including helping determine the risks from micrometeorite and radiation exposure. Over the course of the next twelve months and five successful missions the Lunar Orbiter program photographed 99% of the Moon’s surface, both nearside and far, to a resolution as fine as 1 meter – which at the time was ten times better than what could be achieved from Earth.

Lunar Orbiter I was also responsible for sending back our first views of Earth from lunar orbit, one of which can be seen above.

Learn more about Lunar Orbiter here, and see original images from the Lunar Orbiter program here. Also, check out a cool old Apollo-era film about the Lunar Orbiter and Apollo prep missions below:

Recently a group of researchers and engineers set themselves to the seemingly Sisyphean task of recovering and remastering the image data collected by NASA’s pre-Apollo lunar missions, much of which was archived in now-antiquated analog tape formats. See the results of their work on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) site here and here.



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