Lunar Orbiter 1
Lunar Orbiter Engineering Mock-up
Mission typeLunar orbiter
COSPAR ID1966-073A Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.2394
Mission duration80 days
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerThe Boeing Co.
Launch mass386.9 kg (853 lb)[1]
Start of mission
Launch dateAugust 10, 1966, 19:31 (1966-08-10UTC19:31) UTC[2]
RocketAtlas SLV-3 Agena-D
Launch siteCape Canaveral LC-13
End of mission
Decay dateOctober 29, 1966 (1966-10-30) "about 13:29 GMT"[3]
Orbital parameters
Reference systemSelenocentric
Semi-major axis2,694 km (1,674 mi)
Periselene altitude189.1 to 40.5 km (117.5 to 25.2 mi)
Aposelene altitude1,866.8 km (1,160.0 mi)
Inclination12 degrees
Period208.1 minutes
Lunar orbiter
Orbital insertionAugust 14, 1966
Impact site6°21′N 160°43′E / 6.35°N 160.72°E / 6.35; 160.72
← None

The 1966 Lunar Orbiter 1 robotic spacecraft mission, part of NASA's Lunar Orbiter program,[4] was the first American spacecraft to orbit the Moon. It was designed primarily to photograph smooth areas of the lunar surface for selection and verification of safe landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo missions. It was also equipped to collect selenodetic, radiation intensity, and micrometeoroid impact data.

Mission summary

Mission controllers injected the spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth on August 10, 1966, at 19:31 UTC.[5] The trans-lunar injection burn occurred at 20:04 UTC. The spacecraft experienced a temporary failure of the Canopus star tracker (probably due to stray sunlight) and overheating during its cruise to the Moon. The star tracker problem was resolved by navigating using the Moon as a reference, and the overheating was abated by orienting the spacecraft 36 degrees off-Sun to lower the temperature.[3]

Lunar Orbiter 1 was injected into an elliptical near-equatorial lunar orbit 92.1 hours after launch. The initial orbit was 189.1 by 1,866.8 kilometers (117.5 mi × 1,160.0 mi) and had a period of 3 hours 37 minutes and an inclination of 12.2 degrees.[5] On August 21, perilune was dropped to 58 km (36 mi) and on August 25 to 40.5 km (25.2 mi). The spacecraft acquired photographic data from August 18 to 29, 1966, and readout occurred through September 14, 1966.

Spacecraft orbit and photographic coverage on the near side (left) and far side (right)

A total of 42 high-resolution and 187 medium-resolution frames were taken and transmitted to Earth covering more than 5 million square kilometers of the Moon's surface, accomplishing about 75% of the intended mission, although a number of the early high-resolution photos showed severe smearing. It also took the first two pictures of Earth from the Moon.[6] Accurate data were acquired from all other experiments throughout the mission.[7]

While not disclosed until after the end of the Cold War, the imaging system on the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft were the same Eastman Kodak cameras developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for the SAMOS reconnaissance satellites.[8] NASA extended the camera innovation further by developing the film onboard the spacecraft and then scanning the photos for transmission via a video signal.[9]

Orbit tracking showed a slight "pear-shape" of the Moon based on the gravity field, and no micrometeorite impacts were detected. The spacecraft was tracked until it impacted the lunar surface on command at 7 degrees north latitude, 161 degrees east longitude (selenographic coordinates) on the Moon's far side on October 29, 1966, on its 577th orbit.[5] The early end of the nominal one-year mission resulted from a shortage of remaining attitude control gas and other deteriorating conditions and was planned to avoid transmission interference with Lunar Orbiter 2.[5]

Imaging System Evaluation of Apollo and Surveyor landing sites
Meteoroid Detectors Detection of micrometeoroids in the lunar environment
Caesium Iodide Dosimeters Radiation environment en route to and near the Moon
Selenodesy Gravitational field and physical properties of the Moon

See also


  1. ^ Siddiqi, Asif (2018). Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958–2016 (PDF) (second ed.). NASA History Program Office.
  2. ^ Lunar Orbiter I: Extended Mission Spacecraft Subsystem Performance (PDF) (Report). NASA. September 1967. p. 37. NASA CR-870. ((cite report)): Unknown parameter |agency= ignored (help)
  3. ^ a b "Lunar Orbiter 1: America's First Lunar Satellite". Drew Ex Machina. 14 August 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  4. ^ "Destination Moon: A history of the Lunar Orbiter Program". NASA. 1976. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d "In Depth: Lunar Orbiter 1". NASA. September 12, 2019. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  6. ^ "Lunar Orbiter Photo Gallery - Mission 1". Lunar and Planetary Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  7. ^ Hansen, Thomas P. "Guide to Lunar Orbiter Photographs" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  8. ^ Hall, R. Cargill (October 2001). "SAMOS to the Moon: The Clandestine Transfer of Reconnaissance Technology Between Government Agencies" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  9. ^ Kelvey, Jon (August 10, 2021). "Lunar Orbiter 1: One "Ingenious" Invention Changed Space Exploration Forever". Inverse. Retrieved November 13, 2022.