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U.S. Launches Improved Ranger Spacecraft

Jan. 30, 1964 - The U.S. launched an improved Ranger spacecraft on a 66-hour trip to the moon today. On board were six television cameras. They were rigged to relay to earth, in the last 10 minutes before crashing on the moon, some 3,000 still pictures of the lunar surface. These are needed to help confirm the design of the capsule being built to land two American astronauts on the moon by 1970.

The 804-pound spacecraft, named Ranger 6, was launched at 10:49 a.m. at Cape Kennedy. The close-up pictures of the moon are urgently needed for planning the manned lunar expedition because of uncertainty over what the lunar surface is like. The landing craft would have to be redesigned if the surface turned out to be radically different from what is now thought likely. There is an outside chance there is a layer of dust or other material so thick that a craft as now conceived would sink out of sight. The preferred area for the lunar landing is on the sunlit side within 10 to 40 degrees of the light-dark line and within 20 degrees above or below the lunar equator. This is a rectangle 1,500 miles along the moon’s equator and about 750 miles wide.

Today’s Ranger launching followed by one day a spectacular Saturn 1 flight in which the U.S. put in orbit the heaviest payload in history. Success for Ranger 6 would complete one of the most productive weeks for U.S. rocket men since the space competition with the Soviet Union opened 6½ years ago.


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