The Road to the Moon Landings – Surveyor – LIFE Magazine, 1966

In the upcoming two weeks, Iconic Photos would cover the NASA missions to the other space and the Moon as they appeared in leading picture magazines of the time: Life, Epoca, Paris-Match, Look, Sunday Times, etc.

These documents are not just historical records: they are tributes to the bravery and ingenuity of the astronauts and engineers who took humanity’s first steps into the vastness of space. They celebrate a time when space was a new and dangerous frontier, and each mission captured the world’s imagination.


From June 1966 through January 1968, NASA sent seven robotic spacecraft to the surface of the Moon as part of Surveyor Program. Its primary goal was to test soft landings on the Moon, and the Surveyor craft became the first American spacecraft to achieve soft landing on an extraterrestrial body.

The Surveyor craft were not recovered, and the photos that LIFE magazine published on July 1, 1966 were transmitted from the Moon, across 230,000 miles of space. Two of the pictures were in accurate color — to achieve this, NASA had to go through a complex reproduction. LIFE magazine noted:

The cover picture of the moon floor was not actually taken in color; it was photographed three times by Surveyor’s TV camera, first through a red, then through a green, then through a blue filter. Each picture’s distant signal was picked up on earth, put on video tape and piped into a cathode-ray tube, and photographed in black and white. When the resulting three black-and-white pictures were projected on a screen, one on top of another, each through its own colored filter, a full-color picture could be seen.

LIFE’s formidable art director Bernie Quint was dissatisfied with the color and their fuzzy quality of the images. NASA was more interested in scientific learnings (light frequencies, mineral content of the rock) than in the quality of photos for display and had finetuned their camera filters for that purpose. LIFE on the other hand engaged additional scientists to replicate and refine NASA’s process for print media and crosschecked the image with ‘color wheel’ device on Surveyor before printing the photos.


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50 thoughts on “The Road to the Moon Landings – Surveyor – LIFE Magazine, 1966

  1. You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

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