Lunar Exploration Vehicles

This gallery displays a constellation of vehicles used for lunar exploration. Dominating the space is a real lunar module, the second one built for the Apollo program. The orbital test flight of the first lunar module proved so successful that a second test flight was deemed unnecessary. The lunar module displayed here was used instead for ground testing. Six more like it landed astronauts on the Moon.

A series of unmanned lunar spacecraft preceded the manned missions. These robotic explorers transmitted images of the Moon, inspected its surface, and searched for Apollo landing sites. Examples of the three types of space probes involved in that effort—Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter—hang above the lunar module, along with a more recent lunar explorer: the Moon-mapping spacecraft Clementine.


Ranger 7 Lunar Probe replica

Ranger 7 Lunar Probe
The Ranger spacecraft gave scientists their first close look at the lunar surface. Nine Rangers were launched from 1961 through 1965. The first six attempts failed, but beginning in July 1964, Rangers 7, 8, and 9 successfully completed their 65-hour journeys to the Moon by transmitting television pictures of the lunar surface during the final minutes until their impact there. These pictures revealed details that could not be seen through telescopes on Earth.

The spacecraft on exhibit is a replica of the final three Ranger spacecraft. It is made of parts of Ranger test vehicles.

Transferred from NASA.

More information: Ranger 7 Lunar Probe

Surveyor 3 on the Lunar Surface

The mission of the Surveyor project was to develop basic techniques for soft-landing on the Moon, to survey potential Apollo landing sites, and to obtain photographs and other scientific information. Of the seven Surveyors launched from 1966 through 1968, five landed successfully. They transmitted to Earth 87,632 television pictures of the lunar surface, sampled the lunar soil (using the little scoop on the extended arm), and performed chemical analyses of the soil and other scientific experiments.

This Surveyor spacecraft was used for ground tests.

Transferred from NASA.

More information: Surveyor

Lunar Orbiter

Lunar Orbiter
The mission of the Lunar Orbiters was to photograph the Moon to aid in the selection of landing sites for Apollo astronauts. Five Lunar Orbiters were launched in 1966 and 1967. They photographed about 95 percent of the Moon's surface—more than 36 million square kilometers (14 million square miles). The photos were converted to electrical signals and transmitted to Earth.

The Lunar Orbiter exhibited here was used for ground tests.

Transferred from NASA.

More information: Lunar Orbiter

Apollo Lunar Module

Apollo Lunar Module
This is an actual lunar module, one of 12 built for Project Apollo. It was meant to be used in low Earth orbit to test the techniques of separation, rendezvous, and docking with the command and service module. The second of two such test vehicles, its mission was cancelled because of the complete success of the first flight.

The lunar module had two stages. The descent (lower) stage was equipped with a rocket motor to slow the rate of descent to the lunar surface. It contained exploration equipment and remained on the Moon when the astronauts left. The ascent (upper) stage contained the crew compartment and a rocket motor to return the astronauts to the orbiting command module. After the crew entered the command module for the trip back to Earth, the lunar module was released and eventually crashed into the Moon.

Transferred from NASA.

More information: Apollo Lunar Module

Clementine Engineering Model

Clementine was built by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC to test lightweight instruments and components for the next generation of spacecraft. It was designed to complete a two-month mapping mission in orbit around the Moon from February 19 to May 3, 1994 and then fly past an asteroid. Like the miner's daughter in the song, "My Darlin' Clementine," its instruments would help determine the mineral content of these objects and then be "lost and gone forever." Remarkably, Clementine went from the drawing board and into space in less than two years with a cost of under 100 million dollars, thus introducing the era of "faster, better, cheaper" spacecraft. Although its attempt at flying past an asteroid failed, Clementine provided answers to many of the questions about the Moon that remained from the Apollo era of lunar exploration.

Transferred from the Naval Research Laboratory.

More information: Clementine