Saturday, January 3, 2015

Retro Saturday: Lunar Bridgehead

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is a 29-minute film from 1964 titled, Lunar Bridgehead. It was produced for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Project Ranger was a NASA program originally intended to conduct various scientific observations of the Moon. Conceived in 1959, Ranger probes were to hurdle towards the Moon, conducting experiments upon approach before crashing into the surface. Technology had not yet evolved to the point where a probe could orbit the Moon.

After President John F. Kennedy proposed the human spaceflight program on May 25, 1961, JPL was informed that Ranger would now prioritize reconnaissance for potential Apollo program landing sites. Ranger scientists weren't particularly happy, but NASA was paying the bills.

The first six Ranger missions failed for various reasons. After Ranger 6 failed to transmit images upon approach, NASA threatened to cancel the program if JPL didn't deliver results.

Lunar Bridgehead is a JPL film about the Ranger 7 mission, the first that succeeded. No mention is made in the film of the prior failures or the termination threat hanging over the program.

Watch near the end for Dr. William H. Pickering. He was the JPL Director from 1954 until he retired in 1976. Dr. Pickering was a key figure in many of the earliest robotic probes launched by the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. He was with Wernher von Braun and James Van Allen in Washington, D.C. the night of January 31, 1958, when the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, from Cape Canaveral.

Bill Pickering, James Van Allen and Wernher von Braun lift an Explorer 1 replica the night of January 31, 1958. Image source: Wikipedia.

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