Today is the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first of five lunar orbiters that returned images of 99 percent of both the near- and far-side surfaces of the moon. The orbiters sent back a total of 3,062 photos.
Lunar Orbiter 1, built by The Boeing Co., was launched August 10, 1966 on an Atlas SLV-3 Agena-D rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was designed primarily to photograph smooth areas of the moon’s surface for selection of landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo missions.
Radiation experiments on the orbiters also confirmed that the design of Apollo spacecraft hardware would protect astronauts from short-term exposure to solar particle events.
The orbiters were commanded to crash on the moon before their attitude control gas ran out so they would not be a navigational or communications hazard to Apollo flights.
The program was managed by NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.