An Ill-Fated Lunar Surveyor

Forty-five years ago today — July 14, 1967 — an Atlas Centaur launched from Cape Canaveral carrying Surveyor 4.

(Sinus Medii, planned landing site for Surveyor 4, imaged in 1994 by Clementine. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Surveyor 4 was scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface on July 17th, but …

After a flawless flight to the moon, radio signals from the spacecraft ceased during the terminal-descent phase … approximately 2.5 min before touchdown. Contact with the spacecraft was never reestablished, and the mission was unsuccessful.

The original landing target was 0.4 N, 1.33 W in Sinus Medii (“Central Bay”). Surveyor 4 may have exploded before impact, as this site notes that “communications were abruptly lost 2 seconds prior to retrorocket cutoff.”

So, like its sister ship Surveyor 2, Surveyor 4 did not accomplish its mission. Good thing there were seven spacecraft in the series!

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