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.]