The History of Robots vs Humans on the Moon

Lunar, robots, surface

Before humans ever stepped on the Moon, there had been robotic spacecraft’s sent on the lunar surface to check if everything is okay for people to land there. American robotic missions involved Rangers that crash-landed, after that Lunar Orbiters that sent small pieces of information regarding the untraveled roads of the Moon. Then there was a robotic mission Surveyors that softly landed on the lunar surface and provided more information about the environment on the Moon.

The third Surveyor arrived to the lunar surface in 20th of April, 1967 to the small crater called ‘The Ocean of Storms’ later to be renamed to Survivor after this mission. This robotic mission resulted in more than 6 thousand pictures of the lunar surface around the parking spot. Also, Survivor 3 took samples of the lunar soil and analyzed it, which in its turn led to the conclusion that the soil on the Moon is close in the consistency to the wet sand. The soil was firm enough for the next Apollo missions to safely land.

Surveyor 3 was working for a few days. The last contact attempt was on May 4th, 1967. By that time the lunar night had begun and since the Surveyor 3 was powered by the solar energy it went down.

Later, in November 1969 the Apollo 12 mission took place and landed very close to the Surveyor 3. Apollo 12 spacecraft landed just 170 yd away. Charles Conrad and Alan Bean – two astronauts from Apollo 12 mission, found the Surveyor that had been patiently waiting for the them in the lunar darkness and silence for the last two years. It was the only time in the history when people met a robot on another planet that was there before them.

They dismantled Surveyor 3 with its soil analyzer and camera and brought it back to Earth. It helped to investigate the Moon significantly. All the parts of the Surveyor were studied on the way lunar atmosphere damaged it. Today the Surveyor’s scoop can be seen and visited in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The astronauts removed parts from Surveyor 3, including the soil scoop and camera system, and brought them back to Earth. Scientists were then able to study the effects of years of exposure on the Moon's surface. You can see Surveyor's scoop today in a display at NASA's JPL in La Canada Flintridge, California.

More than 40 years after, in 2009, one more robotic mission of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter simulated the situation of Apollo 12 landing in The Ocean of Storm. It made a lot of pictures where we can see the spot where Apollo 12 landed and the parts of Surveyor 3, still serving his long mission.