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Our Spaceflight Heritage: Surveyor 2

Surveyor 2 as seen by Lunar Orbiter 4 Photo Credit: Lunar Planetary Institute.

On September 20, 1966, Surveyor 2 was intended to land in Sinus Medii, a different area of the Apollo zone. The spacecraft was designed as a follow-up to the highly successful Surveyor 1 mission and was the second of seven lunar landers, tasked with collecting lunar data in preparation for NASA’s Apollo missions.

The Atlas-Centaur rocket in the Space Power Chambers at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Ohio.  Photo Credit: Glenn Research Center/NASA

The Atlas-Centaur rocket in the Space Power Chambers at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Ohio.
Photo Credit: Glenn Research Center/NASA

Surveyor 2 was launched using the Atlas-Centaur vehicle in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This spacecraft was the second of a series designed to achieve a soft landing on the moon and to return lunar surface photography for determining characteristics of the lunar terrain for Apollo lunar landing missions. It was also equipped to return data on radar reflectivity of the lunar surface, bearing strength of the lunar surface, and spacecraft temperatures for use in the analysis of lunar surface temperatures.

When a planned mid-course maneuver for Surveyor 2 was attempted, one of the vernier engines failed to ignite, causing the spacecraft to tumble due to an unbalanced thrust. Attempts to save the spacecraft failed when it lost control, and crashed into the Moon roughly southeast (5.5N, 12 W) of Copernicus Crater on September 22, 1966. The Surveyor program involved building and launching 7 Surveyor spacecrafts to the Moon at a total cost of $469 million.

The objectives of the Surveyor Program were to:

(1) develop and validate the technology for landing softly on the Moon;

(2) provide data on the compatibility of the Apollo design with conditions encountered on the lunar surface; and

(3) add to the scientific knowledge of the Moon.

No experiments or data collection were returned from this mission.


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Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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