This summer has been one full of space exploration. NASA’s New Horizons mission brought us new discoveries and breathtaking images of Pluto. July and August also marked a host of scientific milestones, marking man’s first walk on the moon, among other breakthroughs that helped pave the way for New Horizons. You can explore some of the milestones of American space exploration in the DPLA collections.
The first space probe to send back images of the moon, the Ranger VII, was launched on July 28, 1964. It was also the first successful flight in the Ranger program, which had tried and failed to send a number of unmanned spacecraft to photograph the moon in the early 1960s. The Ranger VII sent more than 4,000 pictures back to earth and helped scientists prepare the eventual Apollo landing sites.
Five years later, NASA astronauts walked the very lunar surface that the Ranger VII photographed. The Apollo 11 spacecraft carried the first humans to the moon, with Neil Armstrong’s historic first steps being broadcast live on TV for viewers back on Earth. You can view objects (including Armstrong’s spacesuit) in the DPLA, via the National Air and Space Museum collection.
Decades later, the Curiosity, an unmanned rover, explored the surface of another planet–Mars. The Curiosity, a robotic vehicle, launched in November 2011 and touched down on the surface of Mars in August 2012. It sent back the first images of Mars, and videos from the Curiosity were watched across the world online. On the one-year anniversary of its landing, the rover played “Happy Birthday,” marking the first song played on another planet. Learn more about the Curiosity mission in this collection of stories from Minnesota Public Radio. You can also read NASA’s Curiosity flight data, from the United States Government Publishing Office.
The most recent space exploration discoveries come from New Horizons, a space probe which captured stunning images of Pluto this summer. Aside from the mock-up of the New Horizons probe, from the National Air and Space Museum, you can find a variety of other related space history items in the DPLA collections, too. Notably, these depictions of the solar system (this ornate 1876 quilt, and an orrery mechanical model, both from the National Museum of American History) created before the discovery of Pluto show just how far scientists have come in their astronomical discoveries.