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Ranger 6 Crashes into Moon

Feb. 2, 1964 - Ranger 6 crashed onto the Moon precisely on target today at 4:24 a.m. EST, but it was unable to send back the pictures of the lunar surface it was to have taken in the final minutes before impact. Engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., gathered later in the morning, after a few hours’ fitful sleep, to begin tracing the trouble. A repeat flight is scheduled in less than a month, but it will be delayed if the cause of failure is not nailed down.

There was an undercurrent of concern that the latest breakdown in the Ranger program — the sixth straight — would generate a clamor in Congress that could jeopardize the future of the $252 million project. Close-up photographs of the Moon are urgently needed by NASA to put a manned expedition on the Moon by 1970. The agency must have a better idea of the nature of the lunar surface so it can either confirm the soundness of design of the spacecraft being built or start designing something different.

The Ranger program already is many months late. So is the Surveyor program in which spacecraft are to be “soft-landed” with cameras and devices to analyze lunar soil. The first flight is set for late 1965. A third project, Lunar Orbiter, was undertaken recently. Spacecraft are to be put in orbit around the moon and take endless strips of lunar photographs from there. But the first flight is not until 1966. “It was a sad finish to something that was going so good,” Dr. William Pickering, head of the laboratory, said today. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is part of the California Institute of Technology.


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