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In preparation for landing men on the Moon, several series of unmanned spacecraft were sent to explore it. First were the Rangers, designed simply to take photographs and send them back to Earth. These spacecraft flew straight towards the Moon until they crashed into the surface. Ranger I was the first mission for the NASA Deep Space Stations. Launched on 23 August 1961, it did not get beyond Earth orbit owing to the failure of the Agena second stage.
The first successful mission was Ranger VII, and two more successful missions followed. Ranger VII sent back 4308 photos before it impacted the Moon on 31 July 1964.
The Surveyor series were much more advanced. They soft-landed on the Moon just like Apollo was to do.
The moon had to be mapped at high resolution to see where the Apollos could land. This was done with the Lunar Orbiter series of spacecraft.
Finally, after all the careful preparations, the Apollo spacecraft took men to the Moon for the first time.
Mariner V was an early spacecraft sent to explore Venus. However, NASA had more luck with their Mars spacecraft than with their probes to Venus, where Soviet spacecraft were more succesful.
The images obtained by the TV camera were recorded on tape and transmitted back to Earth after the encounter. The very first picture was received here at Hartebeesthoek on July 15 1965, starting at 13:01:58 UT, when Mars was nearly overhead at Johannesburg. This picture is shown below. These pictures were also the first pictures of another planet to be taken by a spacecraft. The data were transmitted back to Earth at a rate of 8.33 bits per second, and the strength of the received signal was 10-19 Watts. The picture above was the very first received from Mars.
Image number 11 from Mariner IV clearly shows that Mars is cratered, and showed no signs of Percival Lowell's "canals".
The Mariner IV plaque in the foyer of the Control Building commemorates these first pictures from a spacecraft at Mars.
Mariner VI was able to send back colour pictures of Mars.
Mariner VI is commemorated in this plaque.
The Pioneer series of spacecraft were designed to investigate conditions in space between the planets.
For more information, see the History of the Deep Space Network at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.