Surveyor-1 and Mariner-9: to the Moon and Mars

Forty-five years ago today — May 30, 1966 — Surveyor-1 launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas-Centaur rocket.

(Surveyor-1. NASA image.)

Surveyor-1 was the first U.S. mission to make a soft landing on the Moon. The Surveyor program consisted of seven robotic lunar missions, designed to prove out capabilities and technologies for the Apollo lunar landings.

(As an aside: in my yet-unpubished novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a team of colonists make their way south on an “ice run” and the main character takes a moment to reflect that only a slight detour would take them by the Surveyor landing site.)

In our other space history item for the day, 5 years later — on May 30, 1971 — the Mariner-9 mission to Mars launched, also on an Atlas-Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Taking advantage of favorable timing and a “direct ascent trajectory,” Mariner-9 sped past the Soviet Union’s Mars-2 and Mars-3 missions to arrive at Mars after only 167 days. On November 14, 1971, Mariner-9 become the first spacecraft in orbit around another planet.

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