LUNAR IMPACT: A History of Project Ranger

Part II. The New Ranger

Chapter Eighteen - KUDOS AND QUESTIONS

Midsummer 1964 - the World’s Fair in New York, lush prosperity, black riots in Harlem and Rochester, the emerging "white backlash," an intensifying Presidential campaign - the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater promising to place direction of the space program largely in the hands of the military - President Lyndon Johnson announcing the commitment of 5000 more American advisory troops to Vietnam - and, in the middle of it all, Ranger 7: "We had made a historical achievement," The New York Times asserted, "and everything else for a while seemed small by comparison." 1

NASA, the nation, and the world possessed the first closeup pictures of the moon’s surface on video tape and 35-millimeter film. This success, even more than the first American manned orbital flights, it was widely believed, had redeemed the country from the humiliation of Sputnik 1, and signaled its ascendence in space exploration.

JUBILANT DAYS

Within an hour of Ranger 7’s lunar impact, Newell and Pickering made their way down the hill from the Space Flight Operations Facility to a press conference in the JPL auditorium. At the entrance they were informed of an important phone call - the White House was holding open a line, the President wished to speak with them. Taking the call in a nearby office, the two men received President Johnson’s felicitations. Ranger 7, the President said, was a "magnificent achievement." "On behalf of the whole country, I want to congratulate you and those associated with you in NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and in the industrial laboratories. All of you have contributed the skills to make this Ranger 7 flight the great success that it is... This is a basic step forward in our orderly program to assemble the scientific knowledge necessary for man's trip to the moon." 2 Would they, Johnson inquired, be willing to brief him on Ranger 7’s lunar findings the next day? They would indeed, he was assured.

Now joined by Project Manager Schurmeier, Pickering and Newell entered the JPL auditorium to a standing ovation (Figure 88).


 

Fig. 88. Newell and Pickering Shake Hands Before the Ranger 7 Postflight Press Conference


"This is JPL’s day, and truly an historic occasion," Newell observed, adding, "the entire mission was a textbook operation." "We have had our troubles," Pickering reflected, "...[but] this is an exciting day." How did he view the Laboratory’s future after the success of Ranger 7, a newsman asked? "I think it's improved," Pickering replied with a wide smile, evoking laughter and applause. JPL’s director passed the laurels for the success to Schurmeier and those directly involved with Ranger at JPL, NASA, and in industry. Schurmeier, in turn, thanked Ranger’s team of engineers and scientists.

The focus of everyone’s attention, however, was on Ranger's pictures, and when they might be made available. Schurmeier tantalized the audience with hints that the pictures were very good. All of the camera elements and ground recording equipment had functioned perfectly. NASA and JPL officials had been in touch with those at Goldstone who had seen polaroid contact prints, but beyond stating that the final pictures contained details never seen before, Schurmeier declined further comment. Just as soon as the pictures were processed, the eager newsmen learned, a number would be made public, it was hoped before the day was out. 3

The pleasure and jubilation were no less, exuberant in Washington, where other space agency officials, a large Congressional delegation, and reporters listened to the proceedings from the auditorium at NASA Headquarters. "Everyone here is happy as hell," an agency spokesman declared. NASA Assistant Deputy Administrator George Simpson called Newell and Pickering after the press conference to offer his own congratulations. Also on hand for the occasion, House space committee chairman George Miller assured newsmen that Ranger 7 "puts us well ahead of the Soviets in the exploration of space." Then, referring to the recent Congressional investigation, he added, "I want to make it crystal clear that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is doing a splendid job." Elsewhere the news was the same - and all of it was good. 4

Even as the early morning news conference proceeded at JPL, the Ranger 7 film footage was flown from Goldstone to the Hollywood-Burbank Airport. Under guard, it was taken to nearby Consolidated Film Industries for processing. During the next six hours positives were made from the master negatives, then duplicate negatives from the positives. By late afternoon on July 31, the prints and slides were rushed to the Laboratory in Pasadena. While the experimenters pored over one set of pictures, Pickering, Newell, and members of the JPL Executive Council examined duplicates. The crispness of detail in the later frames - exposing the lunar surface in terms of a few meters instead of a few hundred kilometers - moved everyone first privileged to see them. They were truly superb. Newsmen were notified that selected pictures would be shown publicly by the experimenters in the JPL auditorium that same evening. With the long sought lunar data in their hands, it was the scientists' turn at center stage (Figure 89).


 

Fig. 89. Experimenters Heacock, Kuiper, and Whitaker Examine Ranger 7 Pictures at the Flight Control Center


At 9 pm Pickering introduced the Ranger experimenters before a nationally televised news conference. Principal investigator Gerard Kuiper opened the presentation by explaining the magnitude of Ranger’s success: "This is a great day for science, and this is a great day for the United States," he declared. "We have made progress in resolution of lunar detail not by a factor of 10, as [was] hoped would be possible with this flight, nor by a factor of 100, which would have been already very remarkable, but by a factor of 1000." 5 Kuiper proceeded to show and discuss a representative assortment of slides from among the 4316 pictures obtained. These closeup pictures, he stressed, speaking as an astronomer, covered but a limited area of the moon, making generalization difficult. However, the 1132 scan lines per frame, in contrast to the 500 or so lines found in conventional home television sets, made the quality of Ranger’s pictures "extraordinary" (Figure 90).


 

Fig. 90.(a) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds. North Is at the Top. 

The Clock and Number Identify the Frame. The Lens Markings Are Used for Scale Measurements. 

The White Rectangle Outlines the Next Full Picture To Be Viewed: 

(a) an Area 370.6 km on a Side; 



 

Fig. 90.(b) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds



 

Fig. 90.(c) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds



 

Fig. 90.(d) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds



 

Fig. 90.(e) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds



 

Fig. 90.(f) Ranger 7 Closeup Pictures of the Sea of Clouds

an Area 2960 m on a Side, With the Large Crater in the Upper Left About 100 m in Diameter.


In the discussion period that followed, reporters peppered the experimenters with questions. Having already had the pictures for two or three hours, the scientists were pressed to furnish "the most significant findings" to come from them, and asked whether one could be assured that Apollo astronauts could walk safely on the moon's surface. Many more days of analysis remained before any formal conclusions would be advanced, Kuiper stated. All of the experimenters present were impressed by the continuity of features from the large craters observable with telescopes down to smaller and smaller ones. "I think the rounded features of the large number of secondary craters are new," he added, "also their large number is new."

As for the lunar surface, geologist Eugene Shoemaker ventured to guess, it was "composed of debris - it is littered with debris." This material, Kuiper further suggested in keeping with his own theory of the moon’s evolution, was most likely finely pulverized lava, of low density, although affected by a "rain of small particles so that the upper few centimeters and maybe as much as 1/2 of a meter would be modified by these impacts." 6 The information gained from these pictures, Shoemaker responded to another question, encouraged "the belief that the moon’s surface, in at least certain parts of the maria, will not represent a particular problem [for manned landings] as far as roughness is concerned." But the actual bearing strength, he cautioned, could not be measured without first putting something down on the surface. Nevertheless, the surface appeared at first look to be compact enough to walk upon.

None of the theories concerning the moon’s origin, Kuiper advised the reporters, however, seemed to be affected by the pictorial returns from Ranger 7. These pictures, he concluded, shed light on the evolution of the surface and its history after the moon's formation, not on the origin of the moon itself. 7

Early the next morning, August 1, the "Redeye Special," a late evening jet flight from the West to the East Coast, touched down in Maryland with Newell and Pickering, who were shortly to see the President. On newsstands at the airport the papers acclaimed Ranger 7 and its lunar pictures in superlatives - on the front page and in editorials. Indeed, across the land, from the Seattle Post Intelligencer to the Miami Herald, or the Boston Globe to the San Diego Union, the praise was unanimous (Figure 91). 8


 

Fig. 91. "Howdy" (Courtesy Tom Little in The [Nashville] Tennessean)


Overseas the foreign press had responded in a similar vein, seeming to agree that the United States had at last forged ahead of the Soviet Union in space exploration. Even the Soviet press accorded the flight modest plaudits, though pointing out that the U.S.S.R. had photographed the moon from a spacecraft five years before. 9 The glowing accounts frequently heralded Ranger 7 as the greatest advance in space research since Galileo had trained his telescope on the heavens; it was heady stuff. 10

Later that morning the two space officials were ushered into the White House Cabinet Room, where they explained for the President the Ranger 7 mission and the importance of its pictures to Project Apollo. President Johnson learned that portions of the moon’s Sea of Clouds were suitable for Apollo landings, and that the design of the Apollo lander satisfactorily met observed surface conditions (Figure 92).


 

Fig. 92. Newell and Pickering Brief President Johnson


With newsmen in attendance, the President soon queried Newell: He was satisfied with the return on the investment in Project Ranger, was he not? Newell said he was delighted, "Elated?" Johnson prompted. "Elated," Newell responded. Did the Ranger 7 "adventure" leave any doubts about the wisdom of going to the moon? "Not in my mind, not at all," Newell replied. "I would feel that we were backing down from a real challenge." He was urged to continue. "We would lose leadership," Newell suggested. "In the world?" the Chief Executive asked. "In the world," Newell averred, sustaining the catechism. "This is a battle for real existence in the world, isn’t it - for survival?" Newell agreed that it was, and said he was now "hopeful" that Project Apollo could proceed to a lunar landing on schedule. Responding to further questions, Newell assured the President that Ranger 7 confirmed the planning and soundness of America’s civilian space program. "You don’t expect a Congressional investigation then?" Johnson said with a smile. 11

Afterwards, an obviously pleased President addressed both men, offering them his assessment of the progress achieved in space exploration and the thanks of a grateful nation. "We started behind in space...," he asserted, "[however] we know this morning that the United States has achieved fully the leadership we have sought for free men." Ranger, he went on, represented a weapon of peace rather than one of military might, and "a victory for peaceful civilian international cooperation..." Neither Newell nor Pickering was to be decorated with medals, Johnson concluded, "but they do have, and all of their associates from Mr. Webb down to the fellow who sweeps out the dust in the remote test laboratory, the gratitude and the admiration of all Americans of all faiths, of all parties, of all regions." 12

NEW INTEREST IN A NEW ERA

No longer a liability, Project Ranger had vindicated American space policies and presaged accomplishments yet to come. A satisfied Representative Joseph Karth, chairman of the Ranger investigating subcommittee, inserted foreign editorial acclaim in the Congressional Record. 13 House space committee Chairman George Miller, at a special Ranger briefing for members of the House of Representatives on August 5, termed the mission "one of the greatest accomplishments that NASA has ever made..." It was, he said, "really the beginning." Addressing the legislators after Miller, Kuiper agreed that "a new era has begun in the exploration of the moon." Ranger’s pictures, he declared, confirmed the design of the Apollo lander, indicated a smoother surface than had been expected, and tended to discredit the "deep dust" theories of the lunar surface. 14 That same day, NASA's long-delayed $5.3 billion appropriation for Fiscal Year 1965 sailed through the Senate by a voice vote, while efforts to reduce it were rebuffed 69-20 in a roll call. Senator J. William Fullbright decided against submitting a prepared amendment to cut 10 percent of the funds earmarked for Project Apollo, telling a reporter crisply: "The climate has changed." 15

Enthusiasm over the lunar pictures was just as pronounced at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. During the Ranger 7 mission a technical assistant at the center had been detailed to JPL to obtain prints of any lunar pictures for analysis by Apollo officials. But after the considerable improvement in resolution, the quantity of pictures, and preliminary findings were announced at the experimenters’ press conference on July 31, the Houston plans changed overnight. Joseph F. Shea, the Apollo Spacecraft Program Director, and the Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center Robert R. Gilruth announced that they would personally visit JPL for a first-hand briefing by Ranger's experimenters. 16 Shea and Gilruth subsequently informed newsmen that an Apollo landing appeared "a lot easier than we thought." Much of the mare region photographed by Ranger 7, Shea observed, looked "relatively benign," adding that the 0.93-meter (3-foot) diameter pads on the legs of the Apollo lander would be able "to take hold" in this type of terrain. 17 If previously Homer Newell’s office and the project experimenters had been left virtually alone to select Ranger’s targets on the moon, now Apollo officials claimed priority in the choice of future lunar targets for Ranger. 18

The Apollo group in the Office of Manned Space Flight at Headquarters wanted Ranger 8, scheduled for launch in February 1965, to answer a new question: Did lunar plains areas other than the Sea of Clouds exhibit similar, gently undulating features where crater "rays" * were less prominent? Such areas would be even more hospitable landing sites. In October, Air Force Major General Samuel C. Phillips, NASA Deputy Director of the Apollo Program, queried Oran Nicks on the matter. The target selected for Ranger 8 by the Office of Space Science and Applications, he advised, "should be within the permissible Surveyor and Apollo landing zones," and ‘in a ray-free marial region..." 19

* The ray systems photographed by Ranger 7 appeared to be largely composed of "secondary craters"—created by rocks and debris hurled outward across the lunar surface during the impacts that made the primary craters.

In a letter to JPL a month later, Shea in Houston had another request: "Our first suggestion" for targeting Ranger 8, he informed Schurmeier, "would be to return to the impact site of Ranger 7." "Much could be deduced about the mechanical properties of the surface from a crater produced by a known mass traveling at a known velocity." If that were not feasible, he preferred a highland site because "we believe the greatest gain in confidence would be achieved by predicting and finding a poor [landing] site." 20 The desires of the various Apollo directorates, not to mention Ranger’s own experimenters, had to be reconciled, and for that purpose a meeting was convened on November 19 at JPL.

On the appointed date, Apollo representatives from the Manned Spacecraft Center and the Headquarters Office of Manned Space Flight joined JPL project personnel, all five Ranger experimenters, and a contingent from Newell’s office. Schurmeier opened the proceedings, explaining that everyone's target preferences were to be discussed; but the final list of candidate sites, he made clear, was to be submitted by the Ranger, experimenters and approved by Newell. When the question of sites arose for discussion, the Ranger experimenters endorsed the recommendations advanced by the Apollo group at Headquarters. Targeting Ranger 8 in a "blue" or dark mare along the lunar equator, Gerard Kuiper observed, should confirm the Ranger 7 findings supportive of Apollo, permit computation of the incidence of cratering in a ray-free area, and improve predictions of other similar regions on the moon. Shoemaker and Whitaker concurred, as did Harold Urey, who suggested Mare Tranquillitatis as the most likely candidate. If Kuiper’s lava flows were in fact present on the moon, he added, they should be observable here.

The representatives of the Manned Spacecraft Center conveyed word of Shea’s continued preference for a return to the point of impact of Ranger 7 or, barring this possibility, aiming for a "rough" highlands site. Surveyor Project personnel recommended sites of interest for Surveyor landings. The target preferences of the Apollo group at Headquarters and those of Ranger's experimenters, Schurmeier said in closing the meeting, appeared nearly identical. Since the launch period extended from February 17 through February 24, and in the absence of a consensus, it seemed advisable to consider a dark, ray-free area in the early part of the launch period, and a Surveyor landing site if the launch were delayed to the fifth or sixth day. Targets in these regions would be submitted before Christmas to NASA Headquarters. 21

On January 19, 1965, Newell notified George E. Mueller, Associate Administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight, of the Ranger 8 targets approved by his office and NASA’s Space Science Steering Committee. 22 Conforming to the recommendations discussed at JPL in November, they were:

Launch Date

Lunar Target

Latitude

Longitude

February 17

Mare Tranquillitatis

13.5°  N

24.0°  E

February 18

Mare Vaporum

14.5°  N

12.0°  E

February 19

Sinus Medii

0.5 ° N

1.0°  W

February 20

Secondary craters near Copernicus

4.0°  N

15.0°  W

February 21

Surveyor landing site No. 5

15.0°  S

30.5°  W

February 22-23

Crater Gassendi

18.0°  S

40.0°  W

February 24

Domes near Crater Marius

12.0°  N

56.0°  W

Mueller responded immediately. Though in agreement with the stated scientific objectives, he advised Newell that some of the aim points chosen for Ranger 8 were not entirely satisfactory for the needs of Project Apollo. Latitudes much closer to the moon's equator were preferred by the Office of Manned Space Flight. "In light of this, I would like you to consider the possibility of changing to the following targets..." 23

Launch Date

Lunar Target

Latitude

Longitude

February 17

Mare Tranquillitatis

0.5°  N

24.0°  E

February 18

Highland region

0°  N

13.0°  E

February 19

Sinus Medii

0.5°  N

1.0°  W

February 20

Mare region

1.5°  N

14.5°  W

February 21

Mare region

3.0°  N

28.5°  W

February 22-23

Ray-free mare

1.0°  S

42.0°  W

February 24

Oceanus Procellarum

3.0°  S

57.0°  W

To Newell, Apollo’s needs and wishes simply could not be denied. A few days later he apprised Ranger’s scientists and engineers of Mueller's request, and of his decision to reconsider "targets within the proposed landing zone for the Apollo LEM spacecraft" on February 6 at NASA Headquarters. 24 This time, however, the meeting included Newell and Mueller, as well as Newell’s science chief John Clark, and Donald Wise of the National Academy of Sciences’ Space Science Board. The compromise list of Ranger 8 targets, finally agreed upon emphasized flat lunar areas that "are not only of interest to a better knowledge of the moon, but provide the opportunity for observing sites in the current Apollo landing zone:" 25

Launch Date

Lunar Target

Latitude

Longitude

February 17

Mare Tranquillitatis

3.0°  N

24.0°  E

February 18

Mare Vaporum

14.5°  N

12.0°  E

February 19

Sinus Medii

0°  

1.0°  W

February 20

Near Crater Gambart

4.0°  N

15.0°  W

February 21

Near Crater Reinhold

3.0°  N

28.25°  W

February 22-23

Oceanus Procellarum

3.0°  S

44.0°  W

February 24

Oceanus Procellarum

12.0°  N

56.0°  W

One week before launch, Ranger 8 had a destination. At the National Academy of Sciences, however, Space Science Board Chairman Harry Hess and his colleague Donald Wise viewed this targeting exercise and its outcome with alarm. Hess wrote directly to Mueller, urging restraint in any more demands by Apollo upon Project Ranger. 26 Ranger, Wise in turn counseled, was an unmanned instrument that could profitably be directed to lunar regions other than flatlands:

"It would be a great mistake to simply keep the Ranger 8 target list alive and use [it] for Ranger 9." In the future, "for reasons both of pure science and landing engineering," attention should be given to highland areas and the problems of lunar "surface processes." 27 Ranger’s experimenters could no doubt agree with Hess and Wise, even though they had begun to advance disparate conclusions about the nature of the moon’s surface.

HARD QUESTIONS FOR SPACE SCIENCE

In August 1964, Ranger’s experimenters had begun assembling an atlas of Ranger photographs and constructing their individual scientific findings. Perusing the data as the work progressed, Kuiper marveled at the accomplishment: "To have looked at the moon for so many years, and then to see this ... it's a tremendous experience. The whole thing was like a perfect symphony." 28 No less pleased for reasons of state, President Johnson announced the dispatch of Ranger photographs to leaders of 110 countries on August 16, asserting that "men of all nations recognize this as one of the greatest extensions of human knowledge about the lunar surface to occur in many centuries." 29 But how much the photographs had actually contributed to Apollo or man's knowledge of the moon was now opened to question.

On August 28, a month after Ranger 7’s impact, the Interim Scientific Results Conference convened at NASA Headquarters. 30 Nicks chaired the meeting. Ranger’s experimenters, he informed newsmen, were to leave immediately for Hamburg, there to present these scientific findings before the International Astronomical Union. Gerard Kuiper, Eugene Shoemaker, and Ray Heacock were on hand to discuss their results and answer questions. Harold Urey was unable to attend because of an injury; Ray Heacock would discuss Urey’s analysis. Ewen Whitaker, already in transit to Hamburg, was also absent.

Kuiper displayed and discussed a number of slides of the moon taken both from earth and from Ranger’s full - and partial - scan cameras. He also showed a five-minute motion picture. Composed of successive picture frames taken as the moon rushed ever closer, the film gave the viewer the novel sensation of being aboard the spacecraft as it plummeted to impact. Many of these pictures, Kuiper asserted, revealed ridges and flows typical of lava fields. Geologist Shoemaker agreed with Kuiper, and reaffirmed a prior observation benefiting Apollo. Even though ray systems-secondary and tertiary craters - from the craters Tycho and Copernicus criss-crossed this mare region, the lunar slopes appeared more gentle and the surface "smoother than I dared hope. I think it is good news for manned exploration." 31

But Harold Urey, speaking through Ray Heacock, was not so sure that the news was good for manned exploration or for the presence of lava flows on the moon. To be sure, smaller and smaller ridges on the moon could be observed as the resolution improved. What caused them, he asserted, could not be ascertained from Ranger’s pictures. Likewise, "the question of whether the lunar maria consist of lava or finely divided material is, in my opinion, unanswered by these pictures." The bearing strength and depth of the surface material, certainly, could not be determined. Earth-based measurements of the thermal conductivity of the outer parts of the moon, he reminded the audience, contradicted predictions of a firm and compact surface. These measurements were "very low," and could, as postulated by Cornell astronomer Thomas Gold, be accounted for "by a soft, spongy, fairy-castle structure for some depth." 32 The Apollo lander, the chemist implied, could be in for trouble.

Answering questions afterwards, Kuiper and Shoemaker were pressed hard by reporters to justify their opinions in light of Urey’s skepticism. The layer of fragmented material on the moon’s surface, Kuiper maintained, would most likely be "crunchy," as one might expect of pulverized lava, and probably no deeper than 1.5 meters (5 feet). Shoemaker concurred, but extended the depth to a possible 15 meters (50 feet) of compacted debris, depending upon the amount of erosion that had occurred over time. Ranger’s television experiment, he explained again, was designed to provide information on the surface features, particularly the roughness of these features. That much it had done, confirming the design of the Apollo lander. The precise bearing strength of the surface remained to be investigated by the Surveyor machines to follow Ranger (Figure 93). 33


 

Fig. 93. Shoemaker and Kuiper Answer Newsmen's Questions at the Interim Scientific Results Conference


Science, Shoemaker concluded in response to further queries, advanced one step at a time, and with each step new questions arose naturally in a continuous exploratory process. "We are not going to solve the origin of the moon [even] with Project Apollo ... And," he added for emphasis, "we will not solve the origin of the moon with a hundred years of post-Apollo exploration." Oran Nicks interrupted to bring an end to the conference. Other scientists around the world, he said, would in due course have an opportunity to study these pictures and to advance their own theories. "It is to be expected that there will be different theories evolving from these data ... That is the nature of science." 34

The International Astronomical Union meeting in Hamburg, Nicks reported to Newell a few days later, "was truly an American show." The Ranger photographs were the talk of the conference, and the showing of the approach sequence film brought an ovation. Commission 16 of the Union also named the sea photographed by Ranger 7 "Mare Cognitum," the sea that has become known, a move greeted with approval on all sides. The Ranger papers had sparked lively and altogether natural disagreements in the scientific discussions that followed. 35

But upon returning from Europe, Ranger’s experimenters were jolted by an article in the prestigious Saturday Review. Science editor John Lear charged that, instead of assuring the safety of Apollo astronauts, Ranger’s data confirmed the dangers to man of ray-filled lunar maria. Scientific assertions to the contrary, furthermore, raised the spectre of government-supported "instant science," in which "a competent and if possible eminent scientist is captured by granting him tax monies to finance his favorite type of experiments ... [and] he is called upon to report findings he is not yet certain of" If he resisted this pressure, the scientist was reminded of duty to country and science, and of the possible loss of federal support. If the scientist complied, "his reports become the basis for more generous appropriations by the Congress, the research he loves is supported more richly than ever, and he may even be invited to the White House to shake the hand of the President and answer politically loaded questions on which the future of the entire planet is professed to hang." 36

Whatever the political response of the President and Congress, Lear had clearly misread announced findings favorable to Apollo landings as politically motivated, and was unaware of past struggles simply to ensure a place for science in Project Ranger. Though Homer Newell had encountered the Presidential questioning, Gerard Kuiper, aroused and very irate, saw himself as the supposed eleemosynary captive in this instance. Worse, Kuiper had granted Lear the interview on which the article was based. In a bitter letter to Norman Cousins, the magazine’s editor, the astronomer excoriated the interviewer, his thesis, and the attack on federally supported science:

In the exhilarating hours after the Ranger 7 impact, I coined the term "instant science" in a jocular fashion to imply the need for scientists who had just received a mass of exciting new data to come up with some reasonable comment in a short while for a first news broadcastĽ I casually quoted it to Mr. Lear who, without my knowledge, adopted it and wove it into a sinister pattern of government-supported science, thereby completely missing the meaning of the term ... [Mr. Lear implies] that I have given him information to the effect that scientists are under pressure to make statements favorable to the continuance of large government projects. This is complete fantasy. I have never myself been under pressure from anyone in the formulation of my own recommendations and would obviously resist such pressure had it been applied. 37

In the weeks preceding the launch of Ranger 8, doubts about the project’s value appeared more frequently in influential journals. Some commentators misconstrued the objectives of Ranger, others found its support of Apollo to be inconsequential: "Despite wide publicity to the contrary," The Wall Street Journal advised readers, "it is becoming increasingly apparent that Ranger 7 and its unprecedented closeup pictures of the moon have not yet solved the major mystery in the way of manned landing: will the moon’s soil support the space ship or engulf it in a sea of dust?" 38 In the absence of incontrovertible findings, Ranger 7’s contribution to planetary science was likewise suspect. Ranger might be "a magnificent engineering achievement," The Christian Science Monitor asserted, but what good were the visual data if no firm conclusions could be drawn? "The plain fact is, three months after impact the photos themselves have added very little to our knowledge ... Scientifically [they] rank well below the [non-visual] data gathered by the early, less costly, space probes which revealed the Van Allen radiation belt." 39

Although disturbing to each of the scientific experimenters, this criticism particularly perplexed and troubled the principal investigator, Kuiper. He hardened the line on his own conclusions, and, seeming to make John Lear’s pontification a self-fulfilling prophesy, began a spirited public defense of the project and of visual imaging for planetary science. With Ranger pictures in hand at the International Conference on Earth Sciences in Boston on September 30, he argued "with new forcefulness" that much of the lunar surface was eroded lava, "sand-blasted" by high-speed particles from space. 40 The adverse assessment of the project in The Christian Science Monitor, for example, Kuiper now warned Ranger coexperimenters privately, "points out the necessity for the scientific team to come up with a strong and coherent Final Report, which will enable NASA to counter or prevent articles of this type ... Clearly, the responsibility of the scientist has increased when projects of the magnitude of Ranger are reviewed." 41

Having pushed so long and hard for a Ranger success, neither NASA, JPL, nor the scientists, it appeared, could adequately explain exactly what that success meant. With all other experimental instrumentation having been stripped from the Block III machines in favor of the television cameras a few years before, Ranger could be attacked as being of little value to science. Conversely, it could also be faulted for failing to answer questions about the moon's surface of great interest to Apollo. To the interested public, in fact, Project Ranger was fast falling between the two stools: space science on the one side and Apollo support on the other.

Ranger’s scientists would perforce share any fall in esteem - a prospect Kuiper clearly found unsettling. And, like the engineer-managers before him, he also found that tension and frayed nerves accompanied the notoriety and excitement in projects of the magnitude of Ranger. Time remained, nevertheless. Additional closeup photographs of other lunar regions from Rangers 8 and 9 could perhaps lend credence to one of the theories of the moon’s surface and help dispel the doubts of Ranger’s worth to science and Apollo. Then again, they might muddy the issue further.


Chapter 17  link to the previous page        link to the next page  Chapter 19

Chapter Eighteen - 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. "Impact! " editorial in The New York Times, August 2, 1964, p. E 1.

2. White House text as reprinted in "Johnson Thanks Jet Lab," Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 1964, p. 5.

3. Quotes cited in Marvin Miles, "Ranger 7 Gets Brilliant Moon Photos," Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1964, Part 1, p. 1; Richard Witkin, "Craft Hits Target Area; 4,000 Pictures Sent Back, " The New York Times, August 1, 1964, pp. 1, 8; Dave Swaim, "Pickering Jubilant Over Moon Photos," Star News [Pasadena], July 31, 1964, p. 1; also, JPL film, "Lunar Bridgehead," (JPL 571-2A), November 25, 1964.

4. Quotes cited in John Pomfret, "President Hails New Lunar Feat, " The New York Times, August 1, 1964, pp. 1, 8.

5. Ranger VII Post-Impact Press Conference, held on July 31, 1964, as reprinted by the Office of Public Education and Information, California Institute of Technology, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, p. la (2-745).

6. Ibid., p. 8.

7. Ibid., p. 20, and pp. 22-23.

8. See Current News, prepared by the Office of Public Information, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, August 6, 1964 (2-889).

9. Foreign Media Reaction to Ranger 7 (R-107-64. United States Information Agency document, August 5, 1964) (2-895). "Internationally," Richard Witkin concluded, "the Ranger 7 flight was a propagandistic bonanza for the United States. In the space olympics it probably represented as impressive a 'first' as the orbiting of the first Sputnik and the first manned orbital flight by Yuri A. Gagarin." Richard Witkin, "Ranger Spurs Space Program, " The New York Times, August 2, 1964, p. 10 E.

10. When the euphoria had subsided somewhat, Life magazine dispassionately flipped the Ranger 7 coin to consider the other side: if another failure had been tallied by JPL, the journal suggested, instead of paeans, "vegetables would have rained down from the gallery as never before. "Jim Hicks, "Many a Slip 'Twixt Earth and Moon-and Measles too," Life, August 14, 1964, p. 36A.

11. Quotes cited in Tom Wicker, "Johnson Sees the Success as Justifying the Cost," The New York Times, August 2, 1964, p. 1; and Robert Thompson, U.S. Must Push Space Race, Johnson Asserts, " Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1964, Part 1, p.1.

12. Text, as reprinted in "Johnson's Remarks to Space Scientists," The New York Times, August 2, 1964, p. 50.

13. Congressional Record of the House of Representatives, August 11, 1964, pp. 18370-18373.

14. NASA News Release, subject: "Presentation on Ranger VII to Members of Congress," August 5, 1964, pp. 2, 13, and passim (2-2428).

15. Quoted in Robert C. Toth, "$5.3 Billion for Space Program OKd in Senate, " Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1964, Part I, p. 5.

16. Richard Witkin, "Apollo Officials to Study Pictures, " The New York Times, August 2, 1964, pp. 2, 5 1.

17. Quotes cited in Richard West, " Ranger Photos Show Hospitality of Moon, " Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1964, Part II, p. 1; Harold D. Watkins, "Ranger Photos Boost Confidence in Apollo," Aviation Week and Space Technology, Vol. 8 1, August 10, 1964, pp. 19, 2 1.

18. TWX from Harris Schurmeier to William Cunningham, August 18, 1964 (2-1877); TWX from Oran Nicks to Harris Schurmeier, September 4, 1964 (2-398).

19. NASA memorandum from Samuel Phillis to Oran Nicks, subject: "Ranger p. 8 Aim Point," October 16, 1964 (2-2062).

20. Letter from Joseph Shea to Harris Schurmeier, November 16, 1964 (2-2086).

21. Minutes of the Ranger 8 and 9 Target Selection Meeting, held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, November 19, 1964, prepared by Harris Schurmeier, November 25, 1964, pp. 1-5 (2-1894).

22. NASA memorandum from Homer Newell to George Mueller, subject: Ranger 8 Lunar Target Selection, " January 19, 1965 (2-1511).

23. NASA memorandum from George Mueller to Homer Newell, subject: "Ranger Lunar Target Selection," January 26, 1964 (2-2061).

24. Telegram from Homer Newell to Gerard Kuiper, February 1, 1965 (2-2355).

25. NASA memorandum from Oran Nicks to Homer Newell, subject: "Ranger 8 Target Selection Review and Final Recommendations" February 9, 1965 (2-1514b).

26. Letter from Harry Hess to George MueHer, February 2, 1965 (2-2356).

27. Letter from Donald Wise to Urner Liddel, February 24, 1965 (2-2028).

28. Quoted in "Back in Orbit," Newsweek, August 17, 1964, p. 5 1.

29. Quoted in "Photos of Moon Sent to World's Leaders," Independent [Pasadena], August 17, 1964, p. 1.

30. NASA News Release, transcript of the Interim Scientific Results Conference, Ranger VII, August 28, 1964 (2-173).

31. Ibid., p. 40.

32. Ibid., pp. 42-43.

33. Ibid., pp. 50-60.

34. Ibid., pp. 62, 64.

35. NASA memorandum from Oran Nicks to Homer Newell, subject: "Report on Ranger VII Presentation to International Astronomical Union (I.A.U.), September 8, 1964 (2-399); see, for example, "Moon Photos Stir Varied Valuation," The New York Times, September 1, 1964, p. 15.

36. John Lear, "What the Moon Ranger Couldn't See," Saturday Review, Vol. 47, September 5, 1964, p. 38.

37. Gerard Kuiper, " Letters to the Editor, " Saturday Review, October 10, 1964, p.32.

38. Jerry Bishop, "New Look at Ranger 7, " The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 1964, p. 16.

39. Robert Cowen, "Was Ranger Worth the Cost?" Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1964, Editorial.

40. Walter Sullivan, "Surface of Moon Said to be Lava: Kuiper Says Ranger Photos Are Conclusive Evidence," The New York Times, October 1, 1964, p. 5 0.

41. University of Arizona memorandum from Gerard Kuiper to the Co-Experimenters, Ranger Program, December 1, 1964 (2-1897).


Ch 17 Notes  link to the previous page                         link to the next page  Ch 19 Notes

Chapter 17  link to the previous page        link to the next page  Chapter 19