Even before Hughes Aircraft Company was selected as the contractor that would design and build the Surveyor landers, JPL began conducting tests of materials that would help to cushion the impact of a moon landing. It was to be a soft landing, in contrast to the Ranger crash landings, but there would still be a drop of about 13 feet, where the Surveyor vernier engines would cut off and the lander would free fall to the surface of the moon.
The lander had a tripod structure, with hydraulic shock absorbers in the landing legs. JPL also planned to use three blocks on the underside of the lander, one near each leg, that would absorb some of the impact. Various materials, sizes, and configurations were tested, including aluminum tubes and sheets, some formed into a hexagonal honeycomb pattern. The JPL Photolab took dozens of photos for the Engineering Research Section (354) which are identified simply as “crushable materials” and they show several series of tests completed in 1960-1962. The results were reported in JPL’s bimonthly Space Programs Summaries and other technical reports.
For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports; various Space Programs Summaries; RS36-5, vol. 2; Section 354 photo indexes, JPL telephone books and organization charts.]
Surveyor mission planning began in 1960. The mission included seven spacecraft that would soft land on the Moon, using three vernier engines and a retrorocket. The spacecraft would collect data and images of the surface, in order to ensure a safe landing for Apollo astronauts a few years later. Hughes Aircraft Company was selected to design and build the landers and the project was managed by JPL, which also provided tracking and communications. Surveyor I was launched on May 31, 1966, landed on the Moon June 2, and sent back more than 11,000 photos of the lunar surface. The entire image set from Surveyors 1-7 has recently been digitized, and will soon be added to NASA’s Planetary Data System.
This image was created by Hughes artist Carlos Lopez. It was used in a Surveyor poster, which was a common practice in the days before computer aided drawing. This poster was recently received by the JPL Archives, as part of a collection of Surveyor documentation.
For more information about the history of JPL, contact the JPL Archives for assistance. [Archival and other sources: Surveyor Mission Reports, Ranger and Surveyor Fact Sheet, and the NASA Historical Data Book.]
The last of the Surveyor lunar landers, Surveyor 7, was launched on January 7, 1968, and operated on the surface of the moon for about six weeks. Later that year, additional geoscience studies were carried out in the Mojave Desert using a spare surface sampler arm. A four-wheel-drive camper truck simulated an automated rover and was used to study the procedures and equipment necessary for remote geoscience. The truck was equipped with various sampler instruments, four TV cameras mounted on the top of the vehicle and one portable TV camera. Inside the camper was a simulated Space Flight Operations Center, with TV monitors, controllers for the cameras and instruments, and recording equipment. The field test observer (sitting in the camper) would survey the geology of the test area and carry out sampling operations remotely. Ritchie Coryell (System Design and Integration Section), Roy Brereton (Advanced Studies Office) and Earle Howard (Lunar and Planetary Instruments Section) all worked on this field test program.
In 1963, spacecraft vibration tests were conducted in the Environmental Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. A slab of granite, coated in oil, provided a smooth and stable base for the magnesium slip plate, test fixture and Ranger 6 spacecraft mounted on it. There were vibration exciters (shakers) on each end, capable of more than 25,000 pounds of force. The horizontal fixture at left was used for low frequency vibration testing, and the equipment was capable of testing along all three spacecraft axes.
During the 1960s, Ranger, Surveyor and Mariner spacecraft were developed, built and tested at JPL. Because of the heavy use, a similar but smaller test fixture was used for vibration tests on spacecraft components and assemblies. Building 144 still contains test facilities, but this equipment was removed and the room now contains an acoustic chamber.
This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL's Library and Archives Group.
In November 1969 Apollo 12 astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad landed on the moon less than 600 feet from NASA's Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had been there since April 1967. They removed the camera, some cable and tubing, and the trenching scoop from the lander and brought them back to Earth so that the effects of prolonged lunar exposure could be studied by Hughes Aircraft Company (the spacecraft prime contractor) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Surveyor 3 camera was kept under quarantine and studied for several weeks at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston. Then it was shipped to the Hughes facility in Culver City, Calif. This photo was taken in January 1970, probably at the Hughes facility, where Hughes and JPL employees photographed, disassembled and studied the camera in detail.