Do We Have Robots On The Moon?

Why did we put robots on the moon? How did they help us to discover the Moon’s secrets, and to secure the first manned landings?

The Moon is still a mystery in many ways, and using humanity’s technological advancements to send more robots into space will help us to learn more about the Moon, and how it can help us grow as a species.

The History Of Robots On The Moon

We’ve been sending robots to the Moon for over sixty years; and this is expected to continue far into the future. Read on to learn more about the history of robots on the Moon.

Lunar Science Program

The lunar science program was created by Homer Newell and initiated advancement in space science at NASA. Newell also set the groundwork for scientific communications satellites.

Following a presidential speech by Kennedy in 1961 and Project Mercury, NASA started to work on multiple space programs in anticipation of landing on the moon.

Newell oversaw the launch of robotic space vehicles: Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter spacecraft into space to observe the moon between the years of 1962 and 1968. These space robots gave scientists ground-breaking insights into the geography of the moon in preparation for the first human landing in 1969. 

Ahead of the Apollo mission, the Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter vehicles had various scientific instruments which helped scientists to observe the Moon between 1962 and 1968.

The Lunar Orbiter and Ranger space vehicles were used to photograph the surface of the Moon, and the Surveyor spacecraft took samples from the Moon’s surface.

The photographs and samples obtained from the lunar surface allowed scientists to better understand the Moon’s history, and to plan the engineering of the Moon landings. 

The Lunar Science Program and its processes provided blueprints for future research in later space explorations. The photographs of the Moon allowed the Moon’s physical features to be examined (specifically lunar soil) which helped engineers design the Apollo spacecraft for efficient landing.

Ranger Spacecrafts

Project Ranger began in 1959 as the USA’s first leg in the space race with the Soviets. The Ranger Spacecraft was a robot vehicle equipped with scientific instrumentation which collected information such as recordings and photographs of the Moon before colliding with it.

The Ranger spacecraft was the first close-up footage of the Moon. Once it was decided that a manned Moon landing was on the cards, the scientists behind Project Ranger needed to take things up a notch.

They needed to provide more information about the Moon to secure a safe and effective landing on its surface. Following the first Ranger spacecraft, nine more vehicles were sent into space between 1961 and 1965, with six of these failing.

After being re-engineered, the next three spacecraft worked efficiently and managed to send across around 17,000 photographs of the Moon’s surface at close range.

Before this, close details of the Moon’s surface had never been captured by Earth-bound telescopes. The final Project Ranger mission enabled photographs to be broadcast on television which allowed millions of people to watch a live Moon descent from their homes.

Surveyor Spacecrafts

Seven Surveyor vehicles were launched between 1966 and 1968, with five of these landing. The Surveyors sent around 88,000 photographs of the Moon’s surface back down to Earth.

The Surveyors were equipped with scoops on the extended arms of the spacecraft, which were used to take samples of lunar soil from the surface and perform chemical analyses.

These spacecraft helped to confirm that the Moon’s surface could support a human landing and Moonwalk. Surveyors 3, 4, 5 and 7 had an extended arm and scoop to analyse the Moon’s surface for soil samples and to examine hardness onboard the spacecraft.

Scientists on Earth controlled the robotic arm using a camera to look at the lunar surface. Once the Apollo 12 mission arrived on the Moon in 1969, the third Surveyor had been based on the Moon for around two and a half years.

The astronauts who landed during the Apollo 12 mission took samples from the Surveyor and returned them to Earth for analysis.

Lunar Orbiter Spacecrafts

The Lunar Orbiter spacecraft were sent into space to provide photographs so that scientists could begin mapping the Moon. A total of five vehicles were sent off between 1966 and 1967, with Tte first three launches aiming to map future Moon landing sites.

The final two launches were sent into polar orbit to photograph the Moon. The Lunar Orbiters were all equipped with film processing instruments, which allowed more detailed photographs to be taken and transmitted back down to Earth.

The spacecraft managed to photograph an impressive 95% of the lunar surface from an altitude of 28 miles. 

The Future Of Robots On The Moon

The future of robots on the Moon looks exciting – and it is estimated that a multitude of robots weighing around 200 kg each will be launched onto the lunar surface by certain large scale companies in the next few decades.

Because there will be a certain level of competition between these companies, the cost of sending robots into space may be reduced. Huge companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Roscosmos have stated plans that they will begin shipments to the Moon in the next few years.

The concentration at first will be on examining areas of the Moon for potential mineral extraction activities, beginning with the subpolar areas. This is because larger concentrations of water have been located in the subpolar craters of the Moon where light from the Sun does not reach.

Parts of these areas also showcase a constant source of sunlight, which could be exceptionally useful for future energy endeavours. The space race looks very different in modern times as it did when the Americans and Soviets were first in competition with one another, and it has already started.

Rocket building companies are the current competitors, however many more companies will join the space race in the future, and many more robots will be developed and sent to the Moon. 

Final Thoughts

Sending technology into space has provided humanity with a much more advanced knowledge of the Moon and space as a whole, however, there is still so much more for us to learn.

Continuing with technological advancements here on Earth and continuing with our plans to launch more robots into space will help us learn more about it, as it has done in the past, while also advancing the human species.

Gordon Watts