Space Race - Photograph the Moon Surface (1959-1965)

Follow the success of Luna 2, the Soviet Union launched the first circumlunar probe, Luna 3, which took the first photographs of the far side of the moon.

Luna 3 launched on 4 October 1959 was the first spacecraft to take pictures of the far side of the moon. It is uncertain how many pictures the spacecraft returned, but three images were released to the public, as well as a composite image of the full disc of the moon's far side, which was made up of several frames. As a result of these pictures, the Soviet Union were the first to name features on the far side of the moon.

Luna 3's trajectory took the spacecraft from Earth, around the moon and back, where it reentered the earth's atmosphere on April 20, 1960.

From August 1961 through January 1964, the United States launched a series of Ranger spacecrafts to the moon in vain attempts to take close-up photographs of the lunar surface.

Launched on 23 August 1961, Ranger 1 was the first United States spacecraft designed to test the feasibility of going into a parking orbit around earth before heading out to the moon. A parking orbit gives engineers time to calculate a much more accurate trajectory for the spacecraft to follow to the moon. Ranger 1 made it into low earth orbit. Its engines, which were supposed to re-ignite after 13 minutes and burn for 90 seconds, only burnt for a few seconds and then shut off. The spacecraft eventually re-entered earth's atmosphere after completing 111 orbits.

Launched on 18 November 1961, Ranger 2, like Ranger 1, was designed as a test vehicle. The spacecraft's engines failed to re-ignite after the spacecraft entered a low earth orbit. The spacecraft burned up in earth's atmosphere just two days after launch.

Launched on 26 January 1962, Ranger 3 was designed to take close-up images of the moon before impacting with its surface. It missed the moon and ended up in a solar orbit.

After a successful launch on 23 April 1962, communication with Ranger 4 failed. The spacecraft could be tracked, until it crashed on the far side of the Moon on 26 April 1962, but were unable to collect any data. Ranger 4 was the first object from the United States to reach the moon.

A solar cell onboard Ranger 5 failed shortly after launch on 18 October 1962. Without power, engineers on the ground were unable to control the spacecraft and it missed the moon by 720 kilometers (450 miles).

Luna 4, launched on 2 April 1963 by the Soviet Union, was believed to be an attempt to soft land on the moon. Its engine failed to fire for a trajectory correction, so the spacecraft failed to reach the moon. Contact was lost after it past within 9,300 kilometers (5,780 miles) of the moon.

Ranger 6, launched on 30 January 1964, was designed to take a series of images as it approached the moon, right up to the point where it crashed into the lunar surface. Unfortunately, the spacecraft's cameras failed and no pictures were returned. Ranger 6 crashed into the Sea of Tranquility on 2 February 1964.

Between March 1964 and July 1965, Rangers 7, 8 and 9 took thousands of photographs of the moon's surface - out of the nine Ranger attempts, these were successful.

Launched on 28 July 1964, Ranger 7 sent back the first high-quality images of the lunar surface in the Sea of Clouds. Over 4,300 images were sent back before the spacecraft crash-landed moon on 31 July 1964.

Ranger 8 took over 7,100 high quality images of the lunar surface before it crash-landed in the Sea of Tranquility on 20 February 1965.

Ranger 9, the last of the Ranger series, took over 5,800 images of the lunar surface before it crash-landed in the crater Alphonsus. Network television broadcasted images from the spacecraft as they were received live from the moon.

On 18 July 1965, the Russians launched Zond 3 which took a number of good quality photographs for its time as it flew by the far side of the moon, then transmitted the images back to Earth nine days later. After passing the moon, the spacecraft went into a solar orbit. It was believed that Zond 3 was initially designed as a companion spacecraft to Zond 2 to be launched to Mars during the 1964 launch window. However, the launch opportunity was missed, and Zond 3 was launched on a Mars trajectory as a spacecraft test. Zond 3 was the second spacecraft to view the far side of the moon.