As Nasa’s New Horizons speeds past Pluto, the world is set to learn a whole lot more about the dwarf planet. And, as we eagerly await news from the spacecraft, which is currently out of touch with Earth, we are remembering a similar time, half a century ago, when mankind plumbed the depths of space exploration by reaching the moon.
In 1964, Ranger 7, an unmanned spacecraft took the first images of the moon, which are, even though the lens of time, extraordinary. The Rangers were designed to take images of the moon’s surface, transmitting those images back to the Earth; the craft were destroyed upon impact.
It took the US six attempts to get that grainy, informative, mind-blowing shot back home – a failure rate that meant the program attracted the nickname “shoot and hope”.
This is the first image of our moon’s surface, taken by Ranger 7:
51 years later, we’re still in awe of the universe out there, and while the human drive to explore remains the same, some things have changed.
For one, the world saw the most detailed picture of Pluto for the first time via the Facebook owned photo-sharing social media platform Instagram. Nasa gave Instagram an hour-long head start on the first image before officially releasing it.
NASA social media manager John Yembrick said the space agency made this decision to “engage new audiences”, presumably speaking about millennials and and Gen-Y who may have grown up thinking space is, like, whatever, just right there.
Here is the moment the world (via Instagram) first saw detail of Pluto’s surface:
Gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach, which was at 7:49 a.m. EDT Tuesday – about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Images from closest approach are expected to be released on Wednesday, July 15. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons#solarsystem #nasabeyond #science
The image was beamed down an hour or so before New Horizons approached the closest point in its orbit around Pluto. It sped past at 14 kilometres per second, at just 12,500 kilometres from the “tiny” planet.
The probe will grab many more images and other data and scientists already have colour data, which may be released shortly.
The images to come will be ten times the resolution of this stunning shot, an incredible feat for mankind, photography and imaging, and social media.
Do you remember how you felt seeing images of the moon for the first time? Do you think the same feeling apply to this mission to Pluto?