50 Years Ago Today, a U.S. Spacecraft Took Its First Pictures of the Moon

The entire universe in blog form
July 31 2014 12:53 PM

50 Years Ago Today, Ranger 7 Took a Lunar Death-Dive

On July 31, 1964—50 years ago today—the Ranger 7 probe snapped the very first picture of the Moon ever taken by a U.S. spacecraft. Here's what it saw:

Ranger 7 pic of the Moon
Not long before the end, Ranger 7 had this view of the lunar surface.

Photo by NASA

Ranger 7 was the first of many to follow. It was designed to do two things: impact the Moon and take pictures along the way. It worked beautifully. That picture above was taken at 13:08:45 UTC, when it was just over 2,000 kilometers from the surface. It took thousands of pictures before impacting minutes later (I've always loved the final image it took).

Advertisement

I have to say, thinking about this gave me chills. We've been exploring other worlds via spacecraft for (just barely) longer than I've been alive. Since that time, more than 50 additional spacecraft have achieved orbit around another celestial body (not including those orbiting the Sun). Many more have performed flybys; every big planet in the solar system has been visited, and we have a probe flying past Pluto next year. A dozen humans have walked on another world, and more than 500 have been into space.

I'm tempted to say we live in a time of miracles of wonders, but they're not miracles. They're the achievements of human beings using math, physics, and engineering. Using science. And using their imagination and determination because they knew, no matter what, we will and we must explore the Universe.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.