LUNAR IMPACT: A History of Project Ranger

Part I. The Original Ranger



"From what they say they have put one small ball in the air," President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared at his news conference on October 9, 1957, adding, "at this moment you [don't] have to fear the intelligence aspects of this." 1 But despite the Presidential assurance, the Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1, launched a few days earlier as part of the world-wide scientific program of the International Geophysical Year, 2 had shattered confidence in American technical preeminence. In the wake of the Soviet triumph, many Americans concluded that the United States must undertake a vigorous space program of its own.


Shortly after the launch of Sputnik 1, William H. Pickering, 3 the Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, advanced a novel idea. The Soviet Union had merely hurled a satellite into orbit around the earth. Pickering, along with a number of his staff at the Laboratory, wanted the United States to meet the Russian space challenge by sending a spacecraft to the moon.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, had been pursuing exotic projects in its field for years. Begun in 1936 under the auspices of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, it had originated as a student rocket research project when the scientific community generally regarded rockets as an indulgence best left to students. In 1940 the Caltech rocket experimenters acquired an Army Air Corps contract and built facilities in northwestern Pasadena, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Arroyo Seco wash. There they developed the first solid- and liquid-propellant rocket motors for jet-assisted takeoff of military aircraft. The enterprise was reorganized and named the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when, in 1944, after the advent of the German V-2 rocket, U.S. Army Ordnance awarded Caltech a contract to develop tactical ballistic missiles. 4

Continuing to work for the Army into the 1950s, JPL engineers and scientists designed and developed the liquid-propellant WAC Corporal sounding rocket, the Corporal tactical missile, and the solid-propellant Sergeant tactical missile system. The Laboratory also pioneered in the development of radio telemetry and of various radio and inertial guidance systems for the Army's Redstone rocket arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where the director of research was Wernher von Braun. All the while, JPL, whose facilities were owned by the government, remained an Army establishment under the contract management of Caltech. Its posture and atmosphere were free-wheeling, academic, and innovative. By 1957 Director Pickering, a professor on the Institute faculty, presided over a considerable laboratory complex nestled in the Arroyo Seco and populated by some 2,000 employees.

Like the Laboratory, Pickering, too, had come a long way from his beginnings-the small fishing village of Havelock, New Zealand, where he had attended the same primary school as the famed pioneer in nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford. Displaying an aptitude for mathematics and science, Pickering was sent to high school in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where he built and operated wireless sets and performed extracurricular chemistry experiments in a classmate's cellar. Lured to Caltech in 1929 by an uncle in Los Angeles, he embarked on a career in electrical engineering, but by 1936 emerged with a Ph.D. in physics and an appointment to the Caltech faculty. Applying his capabilities in electrical engineering to one of the central research subjects in the physics of the day, he joined Robert A. Millikan and H. Victor Neher in research on the absorption properties of primary cosmic rays using instrumented balloon sondes.

During World War II Pickering organized and taught electronics courses at Caltech for military personnel, which brought him into contact with the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, including its director, the physicist Lee A. DuBridge. In 1944 he went out to JPL to design and develop telemetering and instrumentation equipment for the long-range missiles. When DuBridge was named the new president of Caltech in 1946, Pickering was busy perfecting the telemetry system to be used in the Laboratory's rocket research vehicles. 5 He preferred to work at the forefront of applied engineering research and development. Appointed the Director of JPL in 1954, he began turning that preference into Laboratory policy (Figure 1). By the time of Sputnik, JPL was equipped to contribute to the nation's first response to the Soviet space challenge: the orbiting of the Explorer I satellite. Pickering's laboratory supplied the solid-propellant upper stages of the launch rocket, furnished the space-to-ground communications equipment and instrumentation for the satellite, and helped integrate into it the radiation monitoring experiment of James Van Allen.


Fig. 1. JPL Director William Pickering in 1954

But Pickering, spare, intense, reserved, and in a quiet way implacable, was determined to mount a JPL program of lunar flights. To his mind, and to DuBridge's, such flights were an appropriate entrant in the emerging Soviet American space race. Like rockets a generation before, lunar flights might once  have been a subject fit only for science fiction, but now they were on the reachable frontier of engineering science, exactly the frontier where Pickering wanted JPL to be. Using the technology available, the United States could launch a simple, spin stabilized vehicle, similar to the Explorer satellite in design, on reasonably short notice, possibly as early as June 1958. Three weeks after the launch of Sputnik 1, Pickering, with DuBridge's support, had ready a JPL moon flight proposal. Designated "Project Red Socks," the proposal declared it "imperative" for the nation to "regain its stature in the eyes of the world by producing a significant technological advance over the Soviet Union" in rocketry, and space flight. Pickering wanted the Department of Defense to approve JPL's embarking immediately on a series of nine rocket flights to the moon. 6

Pickering and DuBridge got nowhere with their Red Socks lunar proposal in the Defense Department 7 until early 1958, when it came under the consideration of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency, or APLPA, whose responsibilities temporarily included the direction of all U.S. space projects. The new ARPA director and former General Electric Company executive, Roy Johnson, was eager "to surpass the Soviet Union in any way possible," 8 and he could choose to do it from a host of unsolicited flight proposals. In fact, "after we had been in business a short time," his deputy Rear Admiral John E. Clark recalled, "it seemed to me that everybody in the country had come in with a proposal except Fanny Farmer Candy, and I expected them at any minute." 9 Because the Soviet Union had not yet launched a rocket to the moon, an unmanned lunar program appeared to be the most promising approach to "beat the Russians" in space.

With the President's approval, on March 27, 1958, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy announced that ARPA's space program would advance space flight technology and "determine our capability of exploring space in the vicinity of the moon, to obtain useful data concerning the moon, and to provide a close look at the moon." 10 Conducted as part of the United States contribution to the International Geophysical Year, the lunar project would consist of three Air Force launches using modified Thor ballistic missiles with liquid-propellant Vanguard upper stages, followed by two Army launches using modified Jupiter-C missiles and JPL solid-propellant upper stages. JPL was to design the Army's lunar probe and arrange for the necessary instrumentation and tracking. ARPA directed the Air Force to launch its lunar probes "as soon as possible consistent with the requirement that a minimal amount of useful data concerning the moon be obtained." 11


The ARPA lunar program approved in March 1958, generally known as the "Pioneer program," offered five flight opportunities, three for the Air Force and two for the Army. Space Technology Laboratories, the West Coast-based contract manager of the Air Force ballistic missile program, which was assigned responsibility for the technical direction of the Air Force lunar missions, also furnished the spacecraft. Shaped like two truncated cones back-to-back (Figure 2), the fiberglass lunar probe, 74 centimeters (29 inches) in diameter and 46 centimeters (18 inches) long, carried 17.5 kilograms (39 pounds) of scientific instruments, battery power, transmitter and antenna, and a retrorocket system designed to slow the vehicle into lunar orbit.

In keeping with the original ARPA requirements, this spacecraft also supported a small facsimile television system. But engineers at the Space Technology Laboratories had barely completed the spacecraft design in June 1958 when the discovery of the first Van Allen radiation belt stimulated scientists to issue urgent requests for more, improved experiment ' s to measure charged particles in near-earth space. Though retaining the television camera, the firm's researchers directed the rest of the scientific instrumentation toward fields and particles in space: a magnetometer to measure the magnetic fields of the earth  and moon, and a micrometeoroid impact counter to survey the flux and energy of micrometeoroids between these two bodies. To obtain more information on the distribution of radiation in space, they installed a Van Allen-supplied ion chamber on flight two, and augmented it with a proportional counter from the University of Chicago on the third flight. 12 The final report summarized the extent of this thoroughgoing change: "To the maximum extent possible, within the weight and power restrictions, experiments were designed to obtain scientific measurement of the environment in cislunar space." 13


Fig. 2. STL Pioneer Lunar Probe (Courtesy TRW)

The first lunar flight of the Air Force Thor-Able launch vehicle rose from Cape Canaveral on August 17 and ended 77 seconds later in a pyrotechnic display above the beach. This "catastrophic failure," the investigative report declared, was caused when a turbo pump bearing seized in the main-stage rocket engine. 14 The embarrassing flight went officially unnamed by the Air Force, though informally it became known as "Pioneer O." After corrective measures had been taken with the main-stage engine, the Air Force launched the second vehicle on October 11, 1958. This time a guidance system error caused an early shutdown of the second-stage engine. Upon completion of burning of the third-stage engine, the velocity attained was less than that required to escape the  earth's gravity. The spacecraft separated properly from its third-stage rocket and continued to ascend to an altitude of 115,000 kilometers (71,700 miles), about one-third the distance to the moon, before falling back to be incinerated in the earth's upper atmosphere.

This second flight, promptly christened Pioneer I, though of course precluding photography of the moon, did yield good scientific data from the magnetometer and micrometeoroid detector. The ionization chamber measuring radiation intensity developed a leak; much of its radiation information, at first unintelligible, was subsequently unscrambled and recovered. 15 The last flight in the Air Force series, Pioneer 2, followed on November 8. The third-stage engine failed to ignite, and the vehicle rose only 1,550 kilometers (963 miles) before failing back to earth. It returned no significant experimental data. 16

While the Air Force lunar flights were underway, JPL completed design of the Army's lunar probe, which would also separate from its fourth-stage rocket, and of the necessary instrumentation and tracking facilities. The JPL design called for a cone-shaped, fiberglass instrument package, 51 centimeters (20 inches) long and 2 5.5 centimeters (10 inches) in diameter at its base (Figure 3). 17 The scientific experiment consisted of a small camera weighing 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), capable of photographing the moon. The lunar image on 35-millimeter film was to be developed by a wet process, scanned by optical means, transmitted from the spacecraft via telemetry code, and reconstructed on earth by facsimile methods at a ground receiving station. Snapped at closest approach, 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) from the moon's surface, the picture would provide a resolution of 32 kilometers (20 miles). 18 Flight plans called for the first of the Army-NASA lunar probes to carry and test a special shutter-trigger mechanism: photoelectric cells would "see" the moon at a preset distance, and trip the shutter. The second flight would then carry the complete camera on a looping trajectory around the moon, with the aim of returning one good photograph of the far side. On the first of these two probes, two Geiger-Muller tubes furnished by Van Allen to measure charged radiation particles in space were added in place of the camera.

Data returned by United States IGY satellites Explorers 1, 3, and 4, meantime, revealed more details of the high-intensity radiation surrounding the earth. In the absence of heavy shielding, such radiation could fog the film in the photographic experiment planned for the Army lunar probe. Consequently, the Army canceled the camera experiment and, in August 1958, JPL began to develop a small, lightweight, slow-scan television camera and magnetic-tape recording and transmission system, all of which were to be functionally insensitive to radiation in space, in time for flight in early 1959. 19

On December 6, 1958, the Army launched the first of its lunar probes, Pioneer 3, on a trajectory that was supposed to carry it past the moon into solar orbit. This probe, like its predecessor Pioneer 1, did not attain escape velocity because the first-stage propulsion system ceased ignition prematurely. Aloft for 38 hours, Pioneer 3 ascended 101,000 kilometers (63,500 miles) before falling back to earth. Nevertheless, sky scientists acquired valuable information from Van  Allen's two Geiger-Muller tubes. These data revealed the existence of two primary bands, or shells, of high-intensity radiation about the earth at approximately 4,800 and 16,000 kilometers (3,000 and 10,000 miles) altitude with radiation intensity near the earth progressively diminishing between 48,000 and 96,000 kilometers (30,000 and 60,000 miles). 20


Fig. 3. JPL Pioneer Lunar Probe

The data returned by Pioneer 3's radiation experiments, and the discovery of the second radiation shell, heightened scientific interest in charged particles in near-earth space all the more. A few weeks later, in early 1959, James Van Allen and his associate George Ludwig of the State University of Iowa urged that their radiation package be flown again in place of the television system on Pioneer 4 to obtain more radiation data and to further refine information already secured. "We happened to have," a JPL official later explained, "a bonanza in the original Explorer by carrying Van Allen's experiment along and obtaining so much information. You just couldn't go wrong by proposing to gain more information of that type for the next several years." 21 Space officials approved the change. Pioneer 4 would also be launched on a lunar flyby trajectory rather than on a circumlunar trajectory for photographic purposes, so as to measure radiation between the earth and the moon. 22

Pioneer 4, the last of the ARPA-initiated lunar probes, rose from Cape Canaveral without incident on March 3, 1959, carrying scientific instruments virtually identical to those of Pioneer 3. The only distinctive new feature was a small amount of lead shielding, added to one of the two Geiger tubes to screen out low-intensity charged particles. In this flight, the launch vehicle provided the spacecraft earth-escape velocity, and the craft passed by the moon at a distance of 60,000 kilometers (35,500 miles). 23 The shielded Geiger counter showed a lower level of radiation in the low-altitude shell than that detected by Pioneer 3, and almost no radiation in the high-altitude shell. The second monitor, acting as a counter and scaler, also detected both bands, but the peak radiation was slightly broader in extent. These scientific data added further support to the hypothesis that the earth's magnetic field acted as a trap for charged particles that accumulated, slowly dispersed, and then built up again as a function of activity on the surface of the sun. 24

All the same, ARPA's lunar program had failed to reassert American superiority in technical affairs. Instead, the Soviet Luna 1, launched a few weeks before Pioneer 4, became the first unmanned craft to fly close by the moon. The distinction of first photographing the far side of the moon was also claimed by another Soviet machine, Luna 3, a short time later. But if the ARPA flight objectives had shifted away from the moon to other scientific targets of opportunity, the ARPA effort had after all been intended as no more than a quick, flexible response to the challenge of Sputnik. Indeed, ARPA itself had been given only temporary authority over space activities, lunar or otherwise. By mid-1958 responsibility for a coherent program of civilian space research had been vested in the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration, familiarly known as NASA.


The new NASA brought together a number of the government's disparate facilities for space and aeronautical research, including JPL. Leaving all defense and military matters to the armed services, the new agency was awarded responsibility for all civilian aeronautical and space activities, including, in the language of its organic act, the "expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space." A simple enough phrase, yet, as was evident from the shifting objectives of the pioneer lunar flights, space science encompassed diverse, sometimes conflicting subjects, generally grouped into two categories-planetary science and sky science.*

*Life science and astronomy, not treated here, would shortly become the third and fourth branches of the space science tree. Life science evolved to include experiments with man and living organisms in space, and the quest for extraterrestrial fife forms. With space vehicles above the atmosphere, astronomy, specifically that portion concerned with celestial phenomena at galactic distances, would begin to move from an observational to an experimental science.

Sky scientists sought to understand the mysteries of the upper atmosphere and the fields and charged particles surrounding the earth. They emphasized meteoritics, solar and cosmic ray physics, plasma dynamics, and the interaction of the solar and terrestrial electromagnetic fields. 25 Planetary scientists, on the other hand, were occupied with the origin, composition, and evolution of planetary bodies in our solar system, including the moon. They wondered whether the earth and its moon had condensed out of the same blob of stellar gas and dust, whether the moon had spun off from the forming earth, or whether it had once been a separate planet captured by the earth's gravitational field. They puzzled over its surface features: whether its craters were caused by internal plutonic forces or by the impact of planetesimals and meteors. They were eager to know the distribution of the moon's mass, its magnetic field, the composition of its atmosphere and crust, and the seismic properties of its interior. 26

By the late 1950s, sky scientists had a well-developed array of instruments for pursuing their subject. They used Geiger counters and ion chambers, plasma probes, magnetometers, and electrostatic analyzers to trap and observe charged particles or to measure electromagnetic fields. For decades they had been lofting their instruments into space by balloons; since World War II, by rockets. Over the centuries planetary scientists had of course explored their subject with telescopes and, after World War II, with radar. They also talked about visual imaging instruments that would radio back pictures of the moon, discussed surface sampling penetrometers, drills, and apparatus for materials analysis, along with seismometers, magnetometers, and gamma-ray spectrometers. And finally, they dreamed of actually delivering these instruments to the moon and planets with automatic orbiters, soft landers, and possibly even soft landers with the ability to return to earth. 27 In the late 1950s, unlike sky science, planetary science depended upon a technology and, more important, complex interplanetary flight capability, yet to be created.

When the space program got underway, the planetary scientists most active in theorizing about the origins and evolution of the moon included the chemists  Harold Urey, a Nobel Laureate. James Arnold, and Harrison Brown; the astronomers Gerard Kuiper, Dinsmore Alter, and Thomas Gold; and the geologists Frank Press, Maurice Ewing, and Eugene Shoemaker. Most were associated with universities, observatories, and other nongovernmental research institutions. Their scientific experience derived from geology, geochemistry, surveying and geodesy, or planetary astronomy. 28 In early 1958, planetary scientists had begun to gather informally with engineers in Lunar and Planetary Colloquia on the West Coast. 29 Several of them, members of the National Academy of Sciences, were appointed to the Academy's Space Science Board, which was formed in June 1958 to advise NASA on its space science research program. 30 By the end of 1958, lunar exploration had been dubbed a meritorious scientific objective for NASA by the Board as well as by the President's Science Advisory Committee. 31 But planetary science was not nearly so well organized, well established, or, most important, well placed in the new NASA as sky science.

Among the notable American scientists active in sky research were the physicists James Van Allen, Hugh Odishaw, Lloyd Berkner, liomer Newell, Joseph Kaplan, Marcus O'Day, John Townsend, Charles Sonett, and S. Fred Singer; the astronomers Fred Whipple and Lyman Spitzer; the meteorologists Harry Wexler, William Kellogg, and Verner Suomi, and the meteorologist-oceanographer Athelstan Spilhaus. These men represented prestigious universities, observatories, and research institutions. Moreover, a significant fraction were under contract to or directly affiliated with government agencies that provided funds for ongoing upper air research using rocket and balloon ascents. They had been largely responsible for inaugurating the International Geophysical Year (IGY). 32 When NASA began operating in late 1958, sky scientists were a cohesive group, well organized and reasonably well publicized. Active in government-sponsored upper air and satellite research projects for over a decade, they sat together on the various official and semiofficial panels that counseled federal agencies on prospective projects, judged experiment proposals, and allocated space for the experiments on rocket sondes and IGY satellites. 33 "Many of these meetings," a participant remarked, "were held consecutively with practically the only changes in the group being the presiding officer and the secretary." 34 Sky scientists, together with engineers, largely staffed the U.S. National Committee for the International Geophysical Year, located in the National Academy of Sciences, a subpanel of which selected the experiments to be carried aloft by the Vanguard, Explorer, and Pioneer spacecraft. 35

It was largely individuals with such sky science backgrounds, linked organizationally, familiar with each other, and experienced in sounding rocket research, who first came to occupy space science positions in NASA. It was largely a sky science program, both in practice and in a final recommendatory report, that NASA inherited from its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. 36 Of course, planetary science held a certain standing in the new NASA from the endorsement of the President's Science Advisory Board and the Academy's Space Sciences Board. But, all things considered, sky  science held the upper hand in the space agency. And it was thus no surprise that planetary science fared poorly in the ARPA-sponsored Pioneer missions, or in the first lunar project authorized by NASA: Atlas-Able V.

Conceived at the Space Technology Laboratories and approved by NASA Headquarters, the Atlas-Able was to be managed by the Space Technology Laboratories and launched by the Air Force. Originally, plans called for two missions to Venus, followed by two lunar orbiting missions; however, in the spring of 1959, prompted by the Russian success with Luna 1, NASA reprogrammed the Venus flights as lunar orbiters, too. 37 The Atlas-Able vehicle was to consist of a liquid-propellant Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile modified to support the same Vanguard upper stages employed on the Thor-Able Pioneers, together with a correspondingly larger and more versatile spacecraft. This spacecraft, like its Pioneer predecessors, featured the technology of the day-a technology well suited to the purposes of sky science. 38 The specifications submitted to NASA in January 1959 detailed a spin-stabilized 122-kilogram (273-pound), aluminum-alloy spheroid. Almost a meter (3 feet) in diameter, the machine was to incorporate vernier rockets at each pole to decelerate it into lunar orbit. Four "paddle wheel" solar arrays coupled with batteries would provide electrical power. Paint patterns on the highly polished reflective surface and an arrangement of novel cruciform temperature control vanes would dissipate the heat generated by the sun outside and instruments within the spacecraft (Figure 4).  39

The planned lunar orbits of the four flights could be expected to yield a measurement of the mean moment of inertia of the moon. The small Pioneer television camera designed by the Space Technology Laboratories "to get a crude outline of the moon's surface" were to complement such a planetary measurement on the first two Rights. But because of launch vehicle failures, none of the Atlas Able V probes launched during 1959 and 1960 even left the earth's atmosphere. Vagrant behavior of the very large liquid-propellant rockets-the transportation system needed for planetary research-would remain a serious problem for all American space flight projects well into the 1960s. But even had the Atlas-Able rockets reached interplanetary space, lunar science would scarcely have benefited. In short order, nonvisual sky science experiments had supplanted the television cameras. In fact, of the nine scientific experiments carried on the last two flights, only one, a magnetometer, was directed toward investigating the moon. One science planner at NASA Headquarters aptly explained the latter missions: The payload instrumentation itself has no value for the lunar program, although it can make an important contribution to the study of solar-terrestrial relationships, serving as an anchored space probe, placed far enough away to be unaffected by our own atmosphere. 40 If in 1959 and 1960 obtaining a sufficiently powerful and reliable space launch vehicle occupied NASA as a whole, acquiring effective leverage in the agency's space research program was a major challenge for the nation's planetary, especially lunar, scientists.


Fig. 4. The Able Lunar Orbiter (Courtesy TRW)


The space program might at first have been directed to reassert American supremacy in technical affairs, and sky scientists might have controlled the important scientific posts, but within NASA at the end of 1958, planetary scientists were already on the march. At Headquarters, the charge of all NASA flight projects was vested in the Office of Space Flight Development, directed by Abe Silverstein. Silverstein's Assistant Director of Space Sciences, Homer Newell, established a sciences division staffed by part of the Naval Research Laboratory upper air research group that had moved to NASA, and organized it to satisfy the interests of sky science. 41 In November 1958 Newell created a companion "theoretical division" to devote attention to basic research in cosmology, astronomy, and planetary sciences. To head this new division, Newell selected Robert Jastrow, a physicist and sky science colleague who had come to NASA with the Naval Research Laboratory upper air group.

Late in November, Jastrow, desirous of learning all he could about his new assignment, "traveled across the United States to the Laboratory at La Jolla, California, to visit a man who, I had been told, would be able to give me some advice." Harold Urey, the Nobel Laureate chemist, opened his book on the planets to the chapter on the moon, and explained the "unique importance" of the moon for understanding the origin of the earth and the other planets. "I was fascinated by his story, which had never been told to me before in fourteen years of study and research in physics," Jastrow recalled. 42 He at once became a convert and champion of lunar exploration. A week later in December, Jastrow brought Urey and his new-found enthusiasm to a meeting with Newell at Headquarters. The visitors pointed out that NASA did not have a firm program for lunar exploration beyond the projects inherited from ARPA; they convinced Newell that such a program should be undertaken. "The Ranger Project," Newell reflected some years later, "was in effect born on [that] day." 43 Whatever the case, certainly born on that day was the resolve that NASA should have a serious program of lunar exploration directed toward the goals espoused by planetary scientists.

Even more important, perhaps, was the subsequent introduction of planetary scientists into the planning structure of NASA. In January 1959, Newell formed an ad hoc Working Group on Lunar Exploration. Its members included Harold Urey, James Arnold, Frank Press, and Harrison Brown. Chaired by Jastrow, the new lunar working group was to operate as a forum for the exchange of views between scientists at NASA and in the academic world-an important function intended by Newell-and it had charge of evaluating and recommending to NASA the experiments to be placed in orbit about the moon or landed on its surface. 44 From this time forward lunar enthusiasts had a voice at Headquarters and Headquarters soon expected to have a rocket capable of carrying the instruments of planetary science reliably to the moon. 


        Nose Fairing           G.E. Second Stage


      JPL Third Stage                                                    



                            Atlas First Stage (in two parts)


Fig. 5. Atlas-Vega Launch Vehicle: Atlas First Stage (in two parts), G.E. Second Stage, JPL Third Stage, Spacecraft, and Nose Fairing

The vehicle was the Atlas-Vega space launch rocket (Figure 5). A liquid propellant Atlas was to be modified to accommodate upper-stage rockets; the second stage would be powered by a General Electric Vanguard first-stage rocket engine modified for high-altitude operation. For those missions requiring a high velocity increment, such as deep space missions, there would be a third stage which was already under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Meanwhile, along with developing the third stage of the general-purpose Vega launch vehicle, JPL was mandated by NASA to conduct unmanned "deep space" exploration research at lunar distances and beyond. By the end of 1959, NASA would specifically direct JPL to undertake a series of unmanned lunar  missions. In the vanguard of the budding program of lunar exploration-even then embracing tentative plans for manned landings on the moon 45 - would be Project Ranger.*

* The conceptual distinction between program and project evolved at NASA Headquarters during 1959 and 1960. Basically, a program was accepted as a related series of undertakings to accomplish a broad scientific or technical goal over a prolonged period. Attainment of the goal would be secured through implementing specific projects with a scheduled beginning and ending. By the end of 1959 NASA could describe its "lunar and planetary exploration program" as including "lunar and planetary probes, orbiters, rough landings, soft landings, and mobile vehicles for unmanned exploration" (NASA, Long Range Plan, December 16, 1959, p. 33). These specific program components began to receive project names in the early months of 1960 (e.g., lunar rough landings became Project Ranger). This definition of program and project was formalized in NASA General Management Instruction 4-1-1. Planning and Implementation of NASA Projects, January 19, 1961. By the mid-1960s, however, with Apollo predominating in NASA affairs, and with the divorce in organization between manned and unmanned flight projects in shared program areas, the original distinction became blurred. In a sense, the program came to support a project.

Actually, despite Pickering's post-Sputnik bid for lunar flights, many JPL engineers and scientists tended to favor investigating the planets and space medium ahead of the moon. Flights past other planets more distant than the moon offered the kind of technical and experimental challenge that appealed to them. In Pasadena, prevailing opinion held that moon missions, whose launch opportunities occurred every lunar month, could and should be deferred in order to capitalize on the more infrequent planetary opportunities. 46 The inner planets, Mars and Venus, appeared particularly attractive objects of inquiry because they approached the earth more closely than did the other planets in the solar system, permitting a maximum number of scientific instruments to be carried with less powerful launch vehicles. The celestial period of closest planetary approach occurred approximately once every 25 months for Mars, and every 18 months for Venus. The next launch opportunity for Mars would fall in October 1960; for Venus, in December 1960 January 1961.

On April 30, 1959, JPL issued to NASA a five-year plan for deep space exploration. This ambitious prospectus emphasized planetary investigation in an alternating series of flights. Individual projects were not identified, but the prospectus outlined a series of progressively more sophisticated missions, together with recommended scientific and engineering features. The proposed flight schedule, qualified as "consistent with scientific potentialities and astronomical dates," hewed closely to contemporary Vega planning, and was predicated upon the rapid and concurrent development of launch vehicles, spacecraft, and scientific instruments (Table I) 47

JPL officials on the West Coast could emphasize planetary exploration, but the NASA ad hoc Working Group on Lunar Exploration in Washington, which confined its attention exclusively to the moon, 48 had finished evaluating the scientific instruments it preferred for unmanned lunar missions. At its first meetings in February, the lunar working group divided prospective missions among uncontrolled impact, rough-landing-where experiments survived the crash, soft-landing, and orbit. Members favored an early rough-landing mission. Although technically more demanding than lunar impact, in which the craft and all scientific experiments would be destroyed on hitting the moon, they judged rough-landing more useful to science because it would deposit operating instruments on the lunar surface.

Table I. JPL Plan for Deep Space Exploration, April 1959

Flight No.





Lunar miss (eng. test)

August 1960



Mars flyby

October 1960



Venus flyby

January 1961



Lunar rough landing

June 1961



Lunar Orbiter

September 1961



Venus Orbiter

August 1962



Venus entry

August 1962



Mars Orbiter

November 1962

Saturn 1


Mars entry

November 1962



Lunar Orbiter and return

February 1963

Saturn 1


Lunar soft landing

June 1963

Saturn 1


Venus soft landing

March 1964

Saturn 1

*Flights 2 and 3 to Mars and Venus had already been incorporated in Vega launch schedules issued by NASA. 49

Members of the group advised Homer Newell to support development of a seismometer, batteries and communications system, and a protective rough-landing capsule. They also recommended other nonvisual planetary science instruments that could be operated during approach to the moon: a gamma-ray spectrometer to detect and measure radioactive minerals during descent, a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field in one direction during descent, and an X-ray fluorescent spectroscope to assay surface material after landing. 50 Newell's chief, Silverstein, approved these scientific recommendations, and directed that they be budgeted and scheduled for flight. Thereafter, members of the lunar working group and their academic colleagues familiar With its dediberations submitted proposals for the design and development of a number of these instruments directly to Newell's shop. 51 Despite the research preferences evident at JPL, NASA's leadership favored an expanded lunar program, especially after the Russians launched Luna 1, which bore instruments to measure the moon's magnetic field, radioactivity, and fields and particles in interplanetary space and carried metal pennants stamped with the Soviet coat of arms (Figure 6). 52


Fig. 6. Luna 1

Indeed, the January 1959 flight of Luna I provoked wide public discussion of space flight advances that might reasonably be expected in the near future, including photographing the hidden or far side of the moon and manned lunar landings. It also helped secure Congressional approval of the Atlas-Vega launch  vehicle 53 and to focus attention at NASA on the deliberations of its lunar working group. The chairman of the lunar working group, Robert Jastrow, told Newell: "the national space program will be open to strong criticism if a very early and vigorous effort is not made in the program of lunar exploration. The criticism will be especially strong if it turns out that a slow-paced U.S. lunar program must be contrasted with early Soviet achievements in this field. 54 At Headquarters, calculations showed that Atlas-Vega could be used for both rough landers and lunar orbiting vehicles in the near future, and these moon missions were described to Congress during the NASA authorization hearings. 55

In a meeting at Headquarters on May 25, 1959, Silverstein and Newell determined to reprogram two Atlas-Vega flights as lunar orbiters, and, following one Vega lunar rough-landing mission, to employ Atlas-Centaurs for two lunar soft-landing missions. 56 In June, Silverstein ordered JPL to cancel the Mars night scheduled for October 1960 and to design its Vega planetary spacecraft for the lunar orbiting mission. 57 Newell, meantime, formed a new Lunar and Planetary Program Office to direct these missions, 58 and reconstituted the ad hoc Working Group on Lunar Exploration as a standing committee known as the Lunar Science Group. 59 As the summer began and Vega schedules commenced to slip - threatening also to void the first launch opportunity to Venus - NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan endorsed an immediate and even more extensive program of unmanned lunar exploration. Glennan, for the preceding 10 years President of the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, had been selected by President Eisenhower as the first Administrator of NASA; the Senate had consented to his appointment, and to the appointment of Hugh L. Dryden, since 1947 the Director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the postwar architect of American aeronautical research, as NASA Deputy Administrator (Figure 7). 


Fig. 7. NASA Administrator Keith Glennan (center), Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden (left), and Associate Administrator Richard Horner (right)


On July 23, Glennan, Dryden, and NASA Associate Administrator Richard E. Homer joined key administration officials at the "White House Annex," just around the comer from NASA Headquarters in the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square, to consider the status and goals of the United States space program. Meeting with them were George B. Kistiakowsky, who had succeeded James Killian as Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Gordon Gray, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Karl G. Harr, Jr., Special Assistant to the President for Security Operations Coordination, Charles Sullivan of the Department of State, and Foster Collins of the Central Intelligence Agency. Glennan recommended that the nation concentrate its deep space efforts on lunar flights to achieve the short-term objectives called for in a policy paper recently prepared by the National Security Council. His proposal was approved. A few days later, Silverstein instructed JPL to cancel the mission to Venus scheduled for January 1961, and prepare a new Vega flight schedule containing only lunar and earth satellite missions. 60


Fig. 8. Luna 3

Then, on September 13, the Soviet Luna 2 crashed on the surface of the moon, and in early October Luna 3 took its photographs of the hidden side of the  moon and radioed them to earth (Figure 8). In the face of an active and very successful Soviet program of lunar exploration, NASA revised its lunar program plans further. In May 1959 the space agency had become aware that the Air Force was developing the Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle; the second-stage Agena B rocket was capable of restarting its engine in orbit. By October 1959 the two-stage Atlas-Agena B had been evaluated as capable of carrying more usable weight into earth orbit than the two stage Vega, and to be almost equal to the three stage Vega for all but the highest-energy deep space flights. Early in November, while the NASA Administrator mulled the situation of duplicated space launch vehicles, representatives of NASA and JPL decided to replace all Vega earth satellite vehicles with Air Force-furnished Atlas-Agena Bs. The six remaining Vegas were to be used exclusively for lunar exploration, the group of flights to be divided between lunar photography from orbiting spacecraft and the depositing of instruments on the moon in rough-landed capsules as recommended by NASA's lunar science group. 61 Directed to lunar research, these missions would "contribute to the understanding of the moon's origin and evolution, and provide data on surface structure and environment." 62 But four weeks later, on December 11, coincident with an agency-wide reorganization, NASA Administrator Glennan cancelled the entire Atlas-Vega project. In the interests of economy and improved reliability, he had decided that the Air Force Atlas-Agena B would replace AtlasVega as the interim launcher for all of NASA's initial space missions. 63

On December 21, 1959, Silverstein assigned JPL seven new flights in place of the cancelled Vega missions. The first five, to be launched by Atlas-Agena B vehicles, would reconnoiter the moon during 1961 and 1962. Among the prospective planetary experiments, NASA now judged visual imaging most urgent: to obtain high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface "in the period immediately preceding impact" for use in an integrated and continuing lunar exploration program. Photography from lunar orbiters, determined to be too complex for the present state of technology, had been eliminated. But, responding to all of the scientific preferences urged at Headquarters, Silverstein requested that JPL examine the feasibility of carrying a basic group of sky science experiments on the spacecraft for use in measuring fields and particles on the way to the moon-and to reexamine proposals for depositing an instrument package on the moon that would "survive impact and then transmit significant data." 64

Silverstein's directive called for completion of this project within 36 months, including development of the new launch vehicle, attitude-stabilized spacecraft, scientific experiments, and the communications and operational systems formulated in Project Vega. This unmanned lunar project was acknowledged to be a high-risk undertaking on short-term schedules, geared "to seize the initiative in space exploration from the Soviets as well as obtain important scientific information about the moon." 65 It would also meet another need, publicly expressed by JPL Director Pickering: to demonstrate the superiority of the "American way" to uncommitted states in the international community. 66 At NASA Headquarters, where such sentiment did not find its way into press  releases, Homer Newell privately confided in a memo to the file: "In the matter of Russian competition, it is clearly understood that whether it be stated openly or not, the United States is in competition with Russia, and the stakes are very high indeed..." 67

At JPL, Clifford Cummings, the former Vega Project Director, suggested a name for the lunar missions-Ranger. The name caught on rapidly at the Laboratory and at NASA. 68 But naming the project marked only the beginning. NASA had yet to forge a management structure capable of directing the efforts of the diverse organizations now involved, JPL had to translate esoteric concepts into functioning hardware, and planetary scientists had to validate claims to the experiments that would be carried to the moon in Project Ranger. It was a tall order to squeeze into thirty-six months.

Preface  link to the previous page        link to the next page  Chapter 2

Chapter One - Notes

The hyphenated numbers in parentheses at the ends of individual citations are catalog numbers of documents on file in the history archives of the JPL library.

1. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1958 [210], p. 724.

2. Two International Polar Years (IPY 1 and 2) for the study of geophysical phenomena had been conducted previously; IPY 1 in 1882-83, when meteorological, magnetic, and auroral stations were first established in the arctic regions, and IPY 2 fifty years later in 1932-33. Both contributed significantly to man's knowledge of the earth's magnetism and of the ionosphere. IPY 2 and the IGY (briefly known as IPY 3 but altered to IGY with the expansion in the scope of inquiry) were sponsored by the various p international scientific unions organized in 1919. The International Council of Scientific Unions (an administrative body comprising the chief officers of the unions) coordinated the efforts and established the Comite' Special de I'Annie Geophysique International (CSAGI) to oversee the project. The idea to advance the date for an IPY 3 by twenty-five years to take advantage of the advance in electronics and communications made during World War II originated at a dinner party in April 1950 at the home of James Van Allen in Washington, D.C. J. Tuzo Wilson, IGY, The Year of the New Moons (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), pp. 7-10; also Hugh L. Dryden, "IGY-Man's Most Ambitious Study of His Environment," National Geographic, February 1956, pp. 385-298.

3. Since nearly every scientist who participated in the Ranger Project was a Ph.D., the academic title is omitted.

4. Frank J. Malina, "Origins and First Decade of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, " The History of Rocket Technology (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965), Eugene M. Emme, ed., pp. 46-66; Frank J. Malina, "The U.S. Army Air Corps Jet Propulsion Research Project, GALCIT. Project No. 1, 1936-1946: A Memoir," and "America's First Long Range Missile and Space Exploration Program: The ORDCIT Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 1943-1946: A Memoir," Essays on the History of Rocketry and Astronautics: Proceedings of the Third Through Sixth History Symposia of the International Academy of Astronautics (Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1977), R. Cargill Hall, ed.

5. William Pickering with James Wilson, "Countdown to Space Exploration: A Memoir of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 1944-1958," Essays on the History of Rocketry and Astronautics, Hall.

6. Project Red Socks (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, October 21, 1957), pp. 2, 3 (2-581b); also letter from William Pickering to Lee DuBridge, with attachments, October 2 5, 195 7 (2-581a).

7. Interview of William Pickering by Cargill Hall, August 20, 1968, p. 6 (2-753). Avid competition over final responsibility for long-range rocket and space flight projects shaded relations between the United States Army and the United States Air Force during the 1950s.

8. Interview of Herbert York by Cargill Hall, December 17, 1971 (2-2235).

9. Interview of John Clark by James Wilson, August 14, 197 1, p. 6 (3-490).

10. Presidential approval cited in Air Force News Service Release No. 1303, subject: "Space Programs Revealed, Air Force Given Moon Probe Role," March 28, 1958; McElroy announcement in DOD News Release No. 288-58, March 27, 1958; see also Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) Orders No. 1-58 and 2-58 of March 27, 1958. The news release contains the only reference to ARPA expectations and goals. By the time these programs had concluded, project objectives had been substantially altered at the operating level. For the Air Force Thor-Able it was "to obtain scientific data in cislunar space . . . " 1958 NA SA / USAF Space Probes (Able-]) Final Report, (Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., February 18, 1959), Volume 1: Summary, p. 2. For the Army, it was "to establish a trajectory in the vicinity of the moon, to make a significant scientific measurement, and to advance space technology." Henry Curtis and Dan Schneiderman, Pioneer III and IV Space Probes (JPL TR 34-11. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, January 29, 1960), p. 1.

11. ARPA Order No. 2-58, March 27,1958, p. 1.

12. 1958 NASA/USAF Space Probes (Able-1) Final Report (Space Technology Laboratories, Inc., February 18, 1959), Volume 2: Payload and Experiments, pp. 18ff.

13. 1958 NASA/USAF Space Probes Final Report, Vol. 1, p. 11.

14. Ibid., p. 72; also "First U.S. Lunar Probe Fails, " Aviation Week and Space Technology, August 25, 1958, pp. 20-21.

15. First Semiannual Report to the Congress of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Washington: Government Printing Office, 19 5 9), pp. 14-15. More than ever eager to claim American progress toward a lunar strike, Life magazine headlined: "The Moon Shot: Why a 'Failure' is a Great Success," Life, October 27, 1958.

16. White House Press Release, Message of the President, subject: "United States Aeronautics and Space Activities, January 1-December 3 1, 1958, scheduled for delivery to the Congress February 2, 1959, pp. 10- 11; also .1958 NASA I USAF Space Probes Final Report, Vol. 1, p. 84.

17. Curtis and Schneiderman, Pioneer III and IV Space Probes, p. 2.

18. J. L. Stuart, A Miniature Photographic Camera or Space Probe Instrumentation (JPL TR 34-137. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, October 28, 1960); also, Space Programs Summary No. 3 for the period March 15, 1959, to May 15, 1959 (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, June 1, 1959), p. 84.

19. Thomas R. Atkinson, et al., Vidicon Camera and Tape Recorder System Development (JPL Memorandum 30-4. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, June 8, 1959), p. 1; and John R. Scull, A System for Lunar Photography and Data Transmission (JPL TR 34-142. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, May 28, 1960), pp. 2-3.

20. Albert R. Hibbs and C. W. Snyder, "Results of Pioneer III Flight," Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium (Downey, California: North American Aviation, Inc.), Vol. 1, No. 4, January 12, 1959, pp. 48-50; and James Van Allen and L. A. Frank, Survey of Radiation Around the Earth to a Radial Distance of 107,400 Kilometers (Iowa City: State University of Iowa, January 1959).

21. Interview of Clifford Cummings by Cargill Hall, August 19, 1971, p. 2 (2-2218).

22. Atkinson, Vidicon Camera and Tape Recorder System Development. There is no question that this system was delayed in development: however, no written documentation has been uncovered that completely accounts for NASA's decision to replace the vidicon camera with the radiation experiment.

23. First Semiannual Report to Congress of NASA, p. 17.

24. Albert R. Hibbs, "Results of Pioneer IV Flight," Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, Vol. 1, No. 5, March 18, 1959, p. 12.

25. S. Fred Singer, " Research in the Upper Atmosphere with Sounding Rockets and Earth Satellite Vehicles, " Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol. II, No. 2, March 1952, pp. 62-63; also, cf. William R. Corliss, NASA Sounding Rockets, 1958-1968: A Historical Summary (NASA SP440 1. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 19 7 1 ); on heritage, see Patrick Hughes, A Century of Weather Service: A History of the Birth and Growth of the National Weather Service, 1879-1970 (New York: Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, Inc., 1970), Part II; also William R. Corliss, Scientific Satellites (NASA SP-133. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 196 7), Chapter 1.

26. Cf., contemporary proposals for experiments in Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, Vol. 1, passim; also, United States Congress, House, Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, Space Handbook: Astronautics and Its Applications, Staff Report, 85th Congress, 2nd Session, 1958, p. 216. The quest to discover extraterrestrial life remained largely in the province of life science, which, in this venture, was closely allied with planetary science. Knowledge of the origin and evolution of the moon's features, two British astronomers declared in 1955, "can never be established with certainty so long as men are confined to earth. Only when the first spaceships take off for the moon, and we are able to view the surface at close quarters and actually analyze the lunar crust, will this (particular) question be finally settled." H. Percy Wilkins and Patrick Moore, The Moon (London: Faber and Faber, 1955), p. 401. This general attitude was expressed most forcefully by Thornton Page at a later date: "I like to think of myself as a 'big-telescope man' . . .ground-based, of course ... but I have to admit that getting outside the atmosphere for a better look, and bringing home samples of astronomical bodies, beats anything the Palomar telescope can offer. " Thornton Page, "A View from the Outside, " Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 25, September 190, p. 61. Arthur Clarke, on the other hand, after reviewing the conflicting theories on the origin of the moon and its surface features in 1951, already had mused: "one sometimes wonders if the matter will be settled even when we have reached the Moon. " Arthur C. Clarke, The Exploration of Space (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951 ), p. 107.

27. Stuart, A Miniature Photographic Camera, Atkinson, Vidicon Camera and Tape Recorder System Development; Exploration of the Moon, the Planets, and Interplanetary Space (JPL Report 30-1. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, April 30, 1959), Albert R. Hibbs, ed., pp. 18-20; Carl Gazley, Jr., and David J. Masson, "Recovery of a Circum-Lunar Instrument Carrier, "Proceedings of the VIIIth International Astronautical Congress, Barcelona, 1957 (SpringerVerlag, Vienna, 1958), pp. 137-146; Merton E. Davies, A Photographic System for Close-up Lunar Exploration (Rand Corporation Report RM2183. May 23, 1958); Merton E. Davies, "Lunar Exploration by Photography from a Space Vehicle," Proceedings of the Xth International Astronautical Congress, London, 1959 (Springer-Verlag, Vienna, 1960), pp. 268-278; and proposals and discussion in Lee Stephenson, "Making Measurements by Hardlanding Vehicles," Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 19-20 and passim; see also, for example, B. B. Chew, "A Look at the Future Space Effort," Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Coll6quium, Vol. 1, No. 2, P. 1; A Statement by the President and Introduction to Outer Space (President's Scientific Advisory Committee, March 26, 1958), pp. 4-5; William W. Kellogg, "Research in Outer Space," report of the Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program, U.S National Committee for the IGY, as printed in Science, Vol. 127, No. 3302, April 11, 1958, p. 799; and Proposal for a Lunar Probe (LMSD-49800. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Missiles and Space Division, June 12, 1959).

28. With increased federal expenditures for basic research in the years immediately following the war, physics and the biomedical sciences did splendidly. But, as Daniel Greenberg has noted, geologists and chemists among other planetary scientists, had been "largely left out of this affluence" and could claim no exclusive source of financial support among government agencies, military or otherwise. Daniel S. Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science (New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1967), p. 173.

29. The first Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, sponsored by the Rand Corporation, North American Aviation, and the California Research Corporation, was held in Downey, California, on May 13, 1958. Participants in succeeding months included Carl Sagan (U.C. Berkeley), Harold Urey (U.C. San Diego), Dinsmore Alter (Griffith Park Observatory), Eugene Shoemaker (U.S. Geological Survey), Gerard Kuiper (University of Arizona), Albert Hibbs (JPL-Caltech), and Gerhardt Schilling (Rand Corporation). The three principal objectives of the Colloquium were: "(1) to bring together people of common interest for the exchange of scientific and engineering information; (2) to define the scientific and engineering aspects of lunar and planetary exploration and to provide a means for their long-term appraisal; (3) to make available, nationally, the collective opinion of a qualified group on this subject." The Colloquium continued to meet quarterly at different locations on the West Coast through May 1963. (Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Exploration Colloquium, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 13, 195 8, " Introduction. ")

30. Creation of and rationale for the National Academy of Sciences Space Science Board noted in Science in Space (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1961 ), Lloyd V. Berkner and Hugh Odishaw, eds., pp. 429-433.

31. See "Space Science Board, Report of Activities, June 1958-June 1959." NASA Document, no date or author indicated. Cf, also, reports and proposals appearing in United States Congress, Senate, Special Committee on Space and Astronautics, Compilation of Materials on Space and Astronautics, 85th Congress, 2nd Session, No. 2, April 14, 1958. SSB members included Lloyd Berkner (Chairman), Harrison Brown, Leo Goldberg, H. Keffer Hartline, Donald Hornig, William Kellogg, Christian Lambertsen, Joshua Lederberg, W. A. Noyes, Colin Pittendrigh, Richard Porter, Bruno Rossi, Alan Shapley, John Simpson, Harold Urey, James Van Allen, O. G. Villard, Jr., Harry Wexler, George Wollard, Hugh Odishaw (Executive Director), and R. C. Peavey (Secretary). Berkner and Odi haw, Science in Space, pp. 429-433; A Statement by the President and Introduction to Outer Space, p. 9.

32. Harold Spencer Jones, "The Inception and Development of the International Geophysical Year," Annals of the International Geophysical Year (London: Pergamon Press, 1959), Volume 1, p. 383.

33. Among these bodies were the ad hoc Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel (1946), 'With representation from United States agencies and academic groups engaged in upper air research, the NACA Special Subcommittee on the Upper Atmosphere (1946), an interagency group that sponsored research and published tables of standard properties of the atmosphere at high altitudes, and the Geophysical Sciences Committee (1948) of the Research and Development Board in the Department of Defense. History reviewed in John Townsend, "History of the Upper Air Rocket Research Program at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, 1946-1947," Appendix III, pp. 27-45, of Homer E. Newell, The Challenge to United States Leadership in Rocket Sounding of the Upper Atmosphere, U.S. Naval Research Lab unpublished document, August 28, 1957 (5-415); Milton W. Rosen, The Viking Rocket Story (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955), pp. 21-23; and Homer E. Newell, "Exploration of the Upper Atmosphere by Means of Rockets," The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 64, No. 6, June 1947, p. 454. For the NACA Committee and Geophysical Sciences Committee see Calvin N. Warfield, Tentative Tables for the Properties of the Upper Atmosphere (NACA Technical Note No. 1200. Washington: NACA, January 1947), pp. 2-3; and S. Fred Singer, "Research in the Upper Atmosphere," pp. 70-71; also David S. Akens, Historical Origins of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC Historical Monograph No.1. Huntsville, Alabama: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, December 1960), p. 8.

34. Joseph A. Shortal, History of Wallops Station (Comment Edition. Wallops Island, Virginia: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1968), "Part 11: From Supersonic to Hypersonic Flight Research, 1950-1954," pp. IX-17 (5-243).

35. See Constance McLaughlin Green and Milton Lomask, Vanguard.-A History (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), pp. 21, 97-98. In space research, the Technical Panel observed when the IGY began, "a satellite can be used to observe only three kinds of things, namely, photons, particles, and fields. " National Academy of Sciences Technical Panel on the Earth Satellite Program, "Comments on a Continuing Program of Scientific Research Using Earth Satellite Vehicles," January 7, 195 7, p. 6 (5 - 1064b).

36. NACA Special Committee on Space Technology, Recommendations Regarding A National Civil Space Program, October 28, 1958, p. 1. The proposed program to attain these objectives consisted of (1) geophysical observation-the mapping of gravitational and magnetic fields and their interactions with particles and radiations approaching earth from the sun and outer space-and experiments with man and living organisms; (2) continued upper atmosphere experiments with rocket sondes; and (3) supporting ground-based research on such questions as "radiation effects on materials, instruments, and living organisms, and means of radiation protection, " see pp. 5-7. See also, for example, contemporary remarks of Hugh Dryden: "In my opinion the goal of the space program should be the development of manned satellites and the travel of man to the moon and nearby planets . . . " Hugh Dryden, " Space Technology and the NACA, text of an address before the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, New York, N. Y., January 27, 1958, p. 2 (5-140).

37. Proposed Development Plan for Able 3-4 (Earth Satellite, Lunar Satellite, Deep Space Probe), June 1, 1959, p. 2-1 (2-2232).

38. Sky science could proceed without the large rockets, precise guidance, and spacecraft capability required for planetary research, and made good use of the technology available. For example, employing the smaller Thor-Able launch vehicle, on March 11, 1960, NASA placed the spheroidal, spinstabilized Pioneer 5 machine on a space traject6ry carrying it and a number of sky science experiments successfully into a solar orbit between the earth and Venus. See NASA News Release, subject: " Pioneer V Payload, " March 8, 1960 (5-1035a); NASA News Release, subject: "Pioneer V Booster," March 8, 1960 (5-1035b); and Glenn A. Reiff, "The Pioneer Spacecraft Program, " Joint National Meeting, American Astronautical Society, Operations Research Society, June 17-20, 1969 (5-1037).

39. Interview of George E. Mueller (then Vice President of STL) by E. M. Emme, NASA Historian, January 15, 1960. Also NASA News Release No. 60-265, September 1960, p. 2.

40. NASA memorandum from Robert Jastrow to Homer Newell, subject: "Report on December I Meeting of the Lunar Science Group," December 11, 1959 (2-1933a).

41. NASA's Space Sciences Division, responsible for experimental applications in space exploration, in 1958 was organized into six branches: Instrumentation, Meteorology, Fields and Particles, Planetary Atmospheres, Astronomy, and Solar Physics. Townsend noted that "at the present time the division consists of about 60 people, most of whom transferred from the NRL where they constituted a group which has been conducting upper air research with rockets for the past twelve years. " NASA memorandum from John Townsend to Homer Newell, subject: "Staff-Space Sciences Division Relationships," February 6, 1959, p. 1 (2-1923a).

42. Robert Jastrow, Red Giants and While Dwarfs (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 2.

43. NASA Memorandum for the File from Homer Newell, subject: "Telephone Conference Report with Robert Cowen, Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 1965 (2-730).

44. NASA Memorandum for the File from Homer Newell, subject: "Miscellaneous Notes," January 20, 1959, pp. 2-3 (2-1760); NASA approval noted in Homer Newell, "Staff Conference Report," January 27, 1959. p. 1; rationale for Working Groups in NASA Memorandum from Homer Newell to A. Silverstein, subject: "Recommendations for a ]Lunar Science Group," August 26, 1959 (2-1929). First meeting of the NASA Working Group on Lunar Exploration convened at JPL on February 5, 1959. Draft of a NASA Memorandum for the File from William Cunningham, subject: "Working Group on Lunar Explorations," January 15, 1965, p. 1 (2-651); see also, Homer E. Newell, "Harold Urey and the Moon," The Moon, Vol. 7, Nos. 1/2, March/April, 1973, pp. 1-5.

45. Cf. United States Congress, Second Semiannual Report of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 86th Congress, 2nd Session, House Document No. 361, 1960, p. 2; NASA Long Range Plan, December 16, 1959, p. 33; and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, A National Space Vehicle Program: A Report to the President, January 27, 1959, pp. 3, 10 (2-798). The NASA Research Steering Committee for Manned Space Flight, chaired by Harry Goett, Director of NASA's new Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland, had concluded its deliberations and released its planning recommendations. Reiterating a suggestion advanced one year earlier by the Vehicles Group in the NACA Special Committee on Space Technology, the NASA committee urged a lunar exploration program ending in manned landings on the moon. See The Working Group on Vehicular Program of the Special Committee on Space Technology, Interim Report to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics: A National Integrated Missile and Space Vehicle Development Program, April 1, 195 8. p. 6 (3-151c); and complementary JPL study, Allyn B. Hazard, A Plan for Manned Lunar and Planetary Exploration, November 1959 (3-323). Virtually all of these early program plans and recommendations, from new launch vehicles to lunar and planetary missions, were in large measure a response to the external challenge represented by achievements of the Soviet space program. As Abe Silverstein observed in testimony before Congress, large launch vehicles were required " so that we could do what we thought the Administration and Congress had set as its goal, namely, to make this country first in space. " United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1960 NASA Authorization, Hearings before the Committee and Subcommittees Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, 86th Congress, 1st Session on H. R. 6512, 1959, p. 410; cf, similar JPL sentiment in Ten- Year Plan (JPL Publication No. 31-2. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, December 3, 1959), p. 1.

46. Proposal for Space Flight Program Study (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, November 7, 1958) (2-620c); and interview of James Burke by Cargill Hall, January 27, 1969, p. 7 (2-1391).

47. Exploration of the Moon, the Planets, and Interplanetary Space (JPL Report 30-1. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, April 30, 1959), Albert R. Hibbs, ed., p. 2.

48. This predominant concern with the moon at NASA Headquarters, after a planetary program had begun, caused JPL officials by the end of the year to request a charter and name change to: Working Group on Lunar and Planetary Exploration. Letter from William Pickering to Abe Silverstein, December 17, 1959 (2-803). The request was agreed to by NASA. Letter from Abe Silverstein to William Pickering, January 26, 1960 (2-318).

49. NASA Vega Flight Schedule of April 4, 1959, cited in United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Review of the Cancelled Atlas-Vega Launch Vehicle Development, December 1958December 1959, Report to the Committee, April 1960, p. 5.

50. Draft of NASA Memo for the File from Cunningham, "Working Group on Lunar Explorations," January 15, 1965 (2-651 letter from Pickering to Silverstein, December 17, 1959 (2-803).

51. Letter from Val Larsen to Robert Jastrow, February 26, 1959 (2-829). J. Arnold, E. Anderson, and M. van Dilla responded with a proposal to obtain a gamma-ray spectrum of the moon's surface on March 17, 1959. JPL Interoffice Memo from Albert Metzger to Cargill Hall, subject: "Comments on Ranger Chronology, " January 8, 1970. NASA contracted for design and development of the small, single-axis, seismometer with a Caltech- Columbia University team in July 1959. R. D. Gurney, et al., Final Report, A Seismometer for Ranger Lunar Landing (Pasadena, California: Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, May 15, 1962), pp. 1-2.

52. United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, The First Soviet Moon Rocket, Report of the Committee, 86th Congress, 1st Session, on H. R. 1086, 1959, p. 6.

53. See, for example, W. Sambrot, "Space Secret," Saturday Evening Post, February 21, 1959; and United States Congress, House, Committee on Appropriations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Appropriations, Hearings before the Subcommittee, 86th Congress, 1st Session, 1959, PP. 196-197; also United States Congress, House, Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, The Next Ten Years in Space, 1959- 1969, Staff Report of the Committee, 86th Congress, 1st Session, House Document No. 115, 1959, passim; and Evert Clark, "Vega Study Shows Early NASA Problems," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 27, 1960, p. 62.

54. NASA memorandum from Robert Jastrow to Homer Newell, subject: "Soviet Plans for Lunar Exploration, " April 20, 195 9 (2-1927).

55. Testimony of Milton Rosen, Abe Silverstein, and J. Allen Crocker in United States Congress, Senate, Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1960, Hearings before the Committee and Subcommittee on NASA Authorization, on S. IS 82, 8 6th Congress, 1st Session, 1959, Part I: Scientific and Technical Presentations, pp. 25-26, 121, 215. This NASA interest in lunar exploration also noted prominently during the first National Conference on Space Physics held at this time, April 1959. See the proceedings in The Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 64, No. 2, November 1959.

56. NASA Memorandum to the Files from William Cunningham, subject: "Lunar Explorations," June 16, 1959 (2-1928).

57. Testimony of James D. Burke in the Report of the JPL Failure Investigation Board, "Ranger RA-5 Failure Investigation," November 13, 1962 (2-459); revised Vega objectives and launch dates that conformed to this directive are affirmed in a letter from William Pickering to Abe Silverstein, July 10, 1959 (2-835).

58. Interview of Edgar Cortright by Cargill Hall, N4arch 4, 1968 (2-762).

59. NASA memo from Newell to Silverstein, "Recommendations for a Lunar Science Group," August 26, 1959 (2-1929). Membership of the Lunar Science Group in 1959 included:

    Robert Jastrow, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, Chairman

    Harrison Brown, California Institute of Technology

    Maurice Ewing, Columbia University

    Thomas Gold, Cornell University

    Albert Hibbs, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    Joshua Lederberg, Stanford University, Department of Genetics

    Gordon MacDonald, University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of Geophysics

    Frank Press, California Institute of Technology

    Bruno Rossi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Ernst Stuhlinger, Army Ballistic Missile Agency

    Harold Urey, University of California, San Diego

U.S. Congress, Second Semiannual Report of NASA, p. 12 3. 9

60. NASA Memorandum for the File from T. Keith Glennan, July 24, 1959, with attachments "Participants at 23 July Meeting, " and Excerpts from the Preliminary U.S. Policy on Outer Space for Use at the 23 July Meeting (2-2608). Rationale advanced by Glennan in support of this position among his NASA associates at this time included (1) Vega launch delays that appeared to preclude planetary missions in 1960-1961; (2) proximity-the moon was much closer, the flight time was several days instead of several months, and spacecraft would not require as great a reliability; (3) a launch opportunity came up once each lunar month; and (4) communications at lunar ranges were less complicated. Interview of Homer Stewart by Cargill Hall, November 22, 1969. This NASA lunar decision reiterated in the letter from Richard Horner to William Pickering, December 16, 1959 (2-1935b); in the NASA Long Range Plan, December 16, 1959; and in the letter from William Pickering to Abe Silverstein, August 4, 1959 (2-825).

61. Details reviewed in NASA, OSFD, "Staff Conference Report, Monday, 7 November 1959,11 p. 1 (2-1760); letter from William Pickering to Abe Silverstein, November 9, 1959, (2-843); and in JPL Interoffice Memo from John Keyser to Distribution, subject: "Minutes of the Vega Staff Meeting November 25, 1969," November 30,1959 (2-1016).

62. JPL Interoffice Memo from Gumpel, Sloan, and Buwalda to James Burke, subject: "Lunar Rough Landing Scientific Experiment," December 10, 1959; see also G. F. Schilling, Lunar and Deep Space Programs (Washington: Office of Space Flight Development, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, September 14, 1959), p.1.

63. See NASA, OSFD, "Staff Conference Report, Friday, 4 December 1959" (2-1760). Cancellation order in TWX from Ralph Cushman to George Green, December 14, 1959 (3-804); JPL Announcement No. 14 from William Pickering to All Personnel, subject: "Cancellation of the Vega Program," December 11, 1959 (2-801). The decision hinged on reliability expected through extended use of Atlas-Agena B. See the testimony of T. Keith Glennan in United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Review of the Space Program, Hearings before the Committee, 86th Congress, 2nd Session, 1960, No. 3, Part I, pp. 170-171. A most comprehensive survey of Vega prior to cancellation is contained in The Vega Program (JPL Report 30-6. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, August 3, 1959), Jack N. James, ed.

64. Letter from Abe Silverstein to William Pickering, December 21, 1959 (2-470). The NASA decision in late 1959 against attempting photography from low-altitude lunar orbiters was made in reviews during early December: "It is ... a project of greater technological difficulty than the rough landing projects, and ... the rough landing must be attempted before the low-altitude satellite if we are going to move ahead as quickly as possible on the lunar program. " NASA memorandum from Robert Jastrow to Homer Newell, subject: " Report of December 1 Meeting of the Lunar Science Group," December 11, 1959 (2-1933a). NASA's two Atlas-Able lunar orbiters remaining at that time-and scheduled for launch in 1960-did not incorporate photography among the experiments in the spacecraft payload.

65. Testimony of Homer Newell in United States Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Investigation of Project Ranger, Hearings before the Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, 88th Congress, 2nd Session, No. 3, 1964, p. 45. Emphasis upon rapid development and flight schedules was prompted by the Soviet lunar program noted above, and by an optimism prevailing at JPL and NASA that Centaur-launched lunar soft-landing missions would be possible in 1961 or in 1962. "The type of mission described as a hard or rough lunar landing is dependent on the length of time required to develop rugged instruments. Unless this time is relatively short, vehicles with the capability of soft-landing a payload will be available before the ruggedized (seismometer) instrument package is ready." Space Programs Summary No. 5 for the period July 15, 1959 to September 15, 1959 (Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, October 1, 1959), p. 69.

66. William H. Pickering, "Space-The New Scientific Frontier," an address before the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, September 29, 1959, p. 5 (2-922); also, Pickering's statements are cited in Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 23, 1959, p, 26; this position is restated in the JPL Ten-Year Plan (JPL Publication No. 31-2. Pasadena, California: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, December 3, 1959), p. 2.

67. NASA Memorandum for the File from Homer Newell, subject: " Trip Report for the Visit to Jet Propulsion Laboratory on 28 December 1959 by Homer E. Newell, Jr., Newell Sanders, J. A. Crocker, Morton J. Stoller," December 30, 1959, p. 2 (2-1935a).

68. However, Ranger almost wasn't Ranger. As a youth, Silverstein had owned a dog by the same name. During an unmercifully long and active life, his canine companion had demonstrated a talent for avoiding all human direction and otherwise had proven himself intractable and cantankerous. With a recollection of the obstinate beast still vivid to mind, Silverstein strenuously opposed the choice. Interview of Clifford Cummings by Cargill Hall, August 19, 1971, p. 1 (2-2218). Nevertheless, the name stuck at JPL, and was soon picked up at other organizations drawn into the project. In the absence of a more appropriate designation and with wide reference to the Atlas-Agena lunar enterprise as Ranger, NASA Headquarters consented to the appellation. On May 4, Cliff Cummings publicly announced the name. Julian Hartt, "Ranger Spacecraft Details Revealed by JPL Official," Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, May 4,1960, p. 23.

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