The Road to the Moon Landings – Surveyor – National Geographic, 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 wrote at the time:

[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.

Due to its publication schedules, the articles in National Geographic were published several months after the missions they covered, and thus lack the immediacy of LIFE Magazine. For instance, an article detailing the first images from the Surveyor appeared only in October 1966 edition of the magazine.

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61 thoughts on “The Road to the Moon Landings – Surveyor – National Geographic, 1966

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