Aug. 1st, 2014

krpalmer: (Default)
I was thinking it was getting to be time to make another post to this journal but wondering just what it could be about when I happened to see a notice that it's now been a round fifty years since the Ranger 7 space probe hit the Moon. While the actual date of impact was yesterday, it still evoked some thoughts in me.

Space probes these days do seem to last for a long time, taking pictures and other readings until I have to admit I sort of lose track of their regular updates, but the missions of the Ranger probes had a distinct time limit in being aimed right for the Moon to crash into it. I had heard about that quite early on in the first Moon landing narratives I found growing up, but knowing that the seventh Ranger was the first to be successful did leave me wondering about its six predecessors until I did some digging that culminated in buying a reprint of an official NASA history available online. That turned the whole thing into more of a tale of "overcoming adversity through persistence." The first two Rangers, I learned, had in fact only been intended as ultra-high altitude probes, but their second-stage boosters never got them out of parking orbits they weren't built for, and they ran out of attitude-control gas a lot faster than intended. The next three Rangers were supposed to take pictures and fire off special balsa-wood capsules with moonquake detectors in them just before hitting, but they all broke down on the way in different ways. (I did once find a National Geographic article in my grandmother's back issues hoping Ranger 5, at least, would work properly.) After that, the final Rangers just had video cameras, but the first of them had those cameras burn out during launch for a final humiliation before success at last, followed by two more successes. The tale, of course, wouldn't be as compelling without the happy ending.

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