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Surveyor 5: Pulling Success from the Jaws of Failure

14 Sep 2017, 15:37 UTC
Surveyor 5: Pulling Success from the Jaws of Failure
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Today it seems that whenever one of NASA’s missions to worlds beyond our own encounters a potentially mission ending problem, teams of talented engineers and scientists inevitably find an innovative way to resolve the issue allowing the mission to continue. Of course, this is not always true and heartbreaking failures do still occur. Unfortunately, such mission ending failures seemed to be more the norm than the exception during the early years of the Space Age as we learned the difficult lessons needed to design, build and operate spacecraft as well as properly manage such complex enterprises.
NASA’s Surveyor robotic lunar landing program of the 1960s was a prime example. Despite their best efforts gleaned from lessons learned over the previous decade from various programs, two of the first four Surveyor missions failed to meet their objectives (see “Surveyor 2: Things Don’t Always Go As Planned” and “Surveyor 4: The Impact of a Low Probability Event”). The tally for this program could have hit three failures with the Surveyor 5 mission when it encountered what would normally have been considered a mission-ending malfunction. Instead, ground controllers were able to snatch the mission from the jaws of failure in what must be ...

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