In August 1966 NASA began the Lunar Orbiter series of missions that were intended to get up-close images of smooth areas of the moon suitable for landing both Surveyor unmanned lander probes as well as the eventual manned missions of Apollo. Note that these missions had only begun 3 short years before the successful Apollo 11 mission that saw mankind take its first steps onto the surface of another world… now that is some turn-around time! Lunar Orbiter 1 actually took place while the Surveyor series of missions had already begun. This would suggest that some of the data obtained from the Lunar Orbiter probes were collected and used immediately in the execution of Surveyor missions.
This first Lunar Orbiter mission is credited for returning the first 2 images of Earth as seen from the distance of the moon. Most people refer to these kinds of images as “Earthrise” images, although that description is incorrect in the traditional sense of the word. Since the same side of the moon always faces Earth, an Earthrise is only possible in a Lunar orbiting spacecraft that is in effect chasing the Earth. Down on the surface of the moon… if you can see Earth in the sky, then you will always see Earth in the sky. It will always be in the same place, at the same size and at all times of the Lunar day.
Look at the date on this mission. It’s 1966… 3 years before the Apollo 11 manned landing on the moon. It shows you what we as a species could really do had we the initiative to do it. Just 3 years after landing the first unmanned probe on the surface of the moon… we were ready to send people. That would almost be like sending men to Mars just a few years after Viking landed in 1976. Okay… it is much further away than the moon and many other technical difficulties as well. So lets say that it would been like sending people to Mars 10 years after Viking. That would be 1986 and here we are 20 years after that saying it will still take another 15.
The Surveyor craft was sent to the surface of the moon largely just to prove that we could do it. It was doing what its name suggested… surveying places for Apollo to plant a few flags.
The very first time we humans ever had a look at the surface of another world was in 1966 with the Luna 9 spacecraft. The event is nearly wiped from our collective memory after the successes of Apollo, but at the time this was another feather in the cap of the Soviet Space Program. Now they were able to claim the first successful touchdown as well as first man in space, first spacewalk, first object in space… you name it.
More than a year after Americans set foot on the moon in 1969, the Soviets landed the worlds first remote “rover” type vehicle ever to explore the surface of another world. One almost has to wonder how the politics of this mission even played out to bother even letting it continue. It would hardly seem worthwhile sending a robot to do the work actual humans would be conducting 5 more additional times beyond the historic Apollo 11 landing from the year previous.
The rover was named “Lunokhod” and translated means, “Moon Walker”, it carried out a mission for 11 days and traveled 10.5 km. Despite the fact that nobody knows exactly where the rover rests today, the rover and lander were sold at auction in 1993 for $68,500. The auction catalog read that it was, “resting on the surface of the moon”.
The Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 was the third such craft to be successfully sent to the moon in history. The images were not very great, as can be seen… but it was the first glimpse mankind ever had of the side of the moon that is permanently facing away from us. With the first look at the “dark side of the moon” many people were quite excited and the images were published the world over. It took a total of 29 pictures and was able to image at least 70% of that unseen side of the moon.
The image is largely intact but for the purposes of presentation I faked the “8” in the number on the bottom and actually added some noise lines.
While looking at all the strange images from old Soviet moon missions on Don Mitchell’s site, I thought it would be interesting to design a set of wallpapers from these early images. I call the series “Smallsteps” as in Neil Armstrong’s famous, “One small step…” quote from Apollo 11. Obviously, there would have been no “giant leap” without a large number of these other “small steps” preceding the Apollo Program (although some of the images I have planned actually come after or during the Apollo program).
To me, the fact that the human race was even doing space exploration back then seems almost out of time — and then you look at the spacecraft that were sending back these images and it is amazing that anything really ever worked. Tin cans with cameras sending back images that were often just as bizzare and rough as the vessels that carried them. It is even more incredible when you consider that people eventually started strapping themselves to these rockets and floated around the vacuum of space in boxes wrapped with foil.
Seems appropriate enough to start the whole set off with the V2 images of Earth sent back in the shockingly early year of 1948. According the the Air and Space Museum these are the first images of the Earth taken from space in history. The image itself I suspect was just scanned from some print and the number tags and directionals are original (although there were about 17 of them and I removed a majority of them in Photoshop).