The Ranger Nine space craft, dead on target, transmitted breathtaking series of lunar pictures before it smashed into the crater Alphonsus on the moon.
The Ranger Nine space craft, dead on target, transmitted breathtaking series of lunar pictures before it smashed into the crater Alphonsus on the moon. The pictures were broadcast live, just as received from the spacecraft, and were seen by millions on American television.
The audience in the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California and millions more at home saw the transmission begin as the spacecraft was about 1300 miles above the lunar surface, some fifteen minutes before impact. The pictures were sent at the rate of one every five seconds from the spacecraft to a tracking station at Goldstone California. Goldstone injected them immediately into a national television hookup. Viewers thus saw an actual live broadcast from the moon, which continued for fifteen minutes. It ended with dramatic finality as the Ranger struck the moon. The screen went black, and the beep tones being transmitted from the spacecraft suddenly ceased.
At first the pictures showed little motion. The early shots showed the crater Albategnius at the top of the screen with Alphonsus at the lower left and Ptolemaeus at the lower right. There first pictures were comparable to what can be seen with telescopes.
As the Ranger plunged towards the moon, the pictures slowly increased in apparent magnification and more details became visible. By eight minutes before impact, the pictures were far better than any earthbound telescope can make. A rill or large apparent crack appeared on the floor of Alphonsus clearly visible in our film at screen left. It grew steadily in size as the spacecraft neared.
By two and one half minutes before impact, the rill was the most prominent feature visible. The spacecraft at this point was travelling about 5,970 miles per hour. The audience burst into spontaneous applause. In the last minute before impact, viewers saw the rill vanish from the field of view and a series of tiny craters and what looked like mounds appear. Behind the commentators voice, the beep tone transmitted from the Ranger could be heard. Then the tone ceased, the screen went black. "Impact", said the commentator, and the crowd of journalists and scientists in the audience burst in applause again.
Scientists said a preliminary check indicated the pictures were the sharpest received in the Ranger series of moon probes. Ranger Nine was the last of them. (The commentator whose voice can be heard on our film was Raymond Heacock, a Ranger project scientist).