Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft

Technicians prepare Lunar Orbiter for launchOn Aug. 14, 1966, the Boeing-built Lunar Orbiter 1 was the first U.S. spacecraft to orbit the moon. The 200 photos sent by each Lunar Orbiter helped NASA select safe landing sites for the astronauts.

Boeing won the contract to build the Orbiters in 1964, before the evolution of digital and satellite technologies that would make transmission of images from space much easier.

The Lunar Orbiter was essentially a flying photographic laboratory. Boeing scientists designed the Orbiter to take pictures of the moon's surface using film laminated with darkroom chemicals. Heat processed the film in space. Light, flashed through the resulting negative, created beams that were converted into electrical signals for transmission to earth, where the image was pieced together.

More than 90 percent of the pictures taken were transmitted successfully, including the historic Earth-rise taken from the moon Aug. 23, 1966. The five Orbiters took pictures of about 99 percent of the moon's surface -- more than 14 million square miles. They also collected micrometeroid and radiation data and provided information for maps of the lunar gravitational field.

Specifications
First launch: Aug. 10, 1966
Classification: Space probe
Width: 18 feet 6 inches (with solar panels and antennas deployed)
Height: 12 feet 6 inches (with solar panels)
Gross weight: 850 pounds
Launch vehicle: Atlas-Agena D missile
Orbit injection: Retrorockets