NASA's getting ready to launch its next mission to the Moon, called Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It's the first in a series of missions designed to lead to a return to the Moon by American astronauts.
NASA's first shot at the Moon was launched 50 years ago today. Pioneer 1 -- NASA's first launch of any kind -- was supposed to enter orbit and transmit pictures of the lunar surface back to Earth -- just like the new mission. But in those days, just getting to the Moon was tough work. A software problem put Pioneer 1 in a useless orbit. It got only a third of the way to the Moon, then crashed back to Earth.
[Launch control: "T-minus 60 seconds and counting, we are go for Apollo 7 at this time..."]
In fact, NASA had a string of failures before getting its first success in 1964. By then, the agency was charged with getting astronauts to the Moon by the end of the decade.
On October 11th, 1968 -- exactly 10 years after Pioneer 1 -- it was ready for the first step. Apollo 7 astronauts Wally Schirra, Don Eisele, and Walter Cunningham would make the first test of the lunar command ship -- not at the Moon, but in Earth orbit.
[Launch control: "5, 4, 3, 2, we have ignition. Commit -- liftoff! We have liftoff!"]
The ship and its crew performed so well that NASA cleared the next Apollo mission for a more ambitious plan: a trip to lunar orbit. Apollo 8 reached the Moon in December of 1968.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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