This is the second part of a series on the First Race to the Moon. The first part, covering events up to November 1958, is “The First Race to the Moon: Getting Off the Ground”.
As the first full calendar year of the Space Age was winding down, American and Soviet teams were pushing hard to be the first to reach the Moon. Between August and November of 1958, the two countries had made a total of five attempts to launch lunar probes. The two Soviet attempts were unsuccessful due to problems with their newly developed Moon rocket, the 8K72, which was based on the new R-7 ICBM. The first three American probes, originally part of a USAF effort to send spacecraft into lunar orbit but was transferred to NASA in October 1958, at best only made it into ballistic trajectories that brought them nowhere near their target. While these three USAF-sponsored lunar probes were unsuccessful, NASA hoped that the last pair of Pioneer probes developed by teams at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) under William Pickering and ABMA (Army Ballistic Missile Agency) under Wernher von Braun would fare much better.
The ABMA/JPL Pioneers
The project which would launch ...