Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Thor-Able 1
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch complex 17A
Spacecraft Mass: 38 kg
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) magnetometer; 2) micrometeoroid detector; 3) temperature sensors and 4) infrared camera
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi
National Space Science Data Center, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/
This mission was the first of two U.S. Air Force (USAF) launches to the Moon and the first attempted deep space launch by any country.
The Able 1 spacecraft, a squat, conical, fiberglass structure, carried a crude infrared TV scanner. This device was a simple thermal radiation device comprising a small parabolic mirror for focusing reflected light from the lunar surface onto a cell that would
transmit voltage proportional to the light it received.
Engineers painted a pattern of dark and light stripes on the spacecrafts outer surface
to regulate internal temperature. The spacecraft was also disinfected with ultraviolet
light prior to launch.
According to the ideal mission profile, Able 1 was designed to reach the Moon 2.6 days after launch; then the TX-8-6 solid propellant motor would fire to insert the vehicle into orbit around the Moon. Altitude would have been 29,000 kilometers with an optimal lifetime of about two weeks.
The actual mission, however, lasted only 77 seconds after the Thor first stage exploded at
15.2 kilometers altitude. The upper stages hit the Atlantic about 123 seconds later.
Investigators concluded that the accident had been caused by a turbopump gearbox failure.
The mission has been retroactively known as 'Pioneer 0.'