Spacecraft above Moon.

An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Orbiter at the Moon. Credit: NASA

What was Lunar Orbiter 5?

NASA's Lunar Orbiter 5 was the last in a series of highly successful missions to map the Moon for potential landing sites and to conduct general observational surveys.

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective(s) Lunar Orbit
Spacecraft LO-E (Spacecraft 3)
Spacecraft Mass 850 pounds (385.6 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management NASA / LaRC
Launch Vehicle Atlas Agena D (Atlas Agena D no. 24 / Atlas D no. 5805 / Agena D no. AD159/6634)
Launch Date and Time Aug. 1, 1967 / 22:33:00 UT
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Fla. / Launch Complex 13
Scientific Instruments 1. Imaging System
2. Micrometeoroid Detectors
3. Radiation Dosimeters

Key Dates

Aug. 1, 1967: Launch

Aug. 3, 1967: Lunar Orbiter 5 entered lunar polar orbit

Aug. 7, 1967: Photography mission began

Jan. 31, 1968: Spacecraft commanded to impact on surface of the Moon

In Depth: Lunar Orbiter 5

Lunar Orbiter 5 was the last in a series of highly successful missions to map the Moon for potential landing sites and to conduct general observational surveys. This last mission’s objectives were both photographic (the primary mission) and non-photographic (the secondary mission).

The primary mission involved taking additional pictures of Apollo sites, broad surveys of unphotographed areas of the far side of the Moon, imaging the Surveyor landing sites, and photographing areas of scientific value.

The secondary goals included acquisition of precise trajectory information for improving the definition of the lunar gravitational field, measurement of the micrometeoroid flux and radiation dose in the lunar environment, and helping to prepare the Manned Space Flight Network for the Apollo missions.

After a course correction on Aug. 3, 1967, Lunar Orbiter 5 entered lunar polar orbit two days later after an engine firing at 16:48 UT that lasted 8 minutes, 28 seconds. Initial orbital parameters were about 121 × 3,743 miles (194.5 × 6,023 kilometers) at 85.01-degrees inclination. The orbital period was 8.5 hours.

Lunar Orbiter 5 began its photography mission at 01:22 UT Aug. 7, 1967, before executing a maneuver to bring it to its operational orbit at about 62 × 3,743 miles (100 × 6,023 kilometers).

The spacecraft photographed 36 different areas on the Moon's near side and mapped most of the far side via a set of 212 frames until the photography mission ended Aug. 18, 1967. The images included pictures of five potential Apollo landing sites, 36 science sites, and 23 previously unphotographed areas of the Moon's far side, as well as possible targets for future Surveyor missions.

Controllers also extensively used the spacecraft to map the Moon’s gravitational field in order to predict orbital perturbations on future lunar orbital missions. The probe also obtained a spectacular high-quality photo of Earth showing Africa and the Middle East at 09:05 UT on Aug. 8, 1967.

A change in orbit on Aug. 9, 1967, brought the orbit down to about 932 × 61.5 miles (1,499.37 × 98.93 kilometers) at an 84.76-degree inclination.

Lunar Orbiter 5 was commanded to impact on the lunar surface Jan. 31, 1968, which it did at 0 degrees north latitude and 70 degrees west longitude.

In total, the five lunar orbiters photographed 99% of the lunar surface. Perhaps the most important finding credited to data from the orbiters, and Lunar Orbiter 5 in particular, was the discovery of “mascons” or lunar mass concentrations under the lunar ringed maria, first published by P. M. Muller and W. L. Sjogren, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in mid-1968.

Key Source

Siddiqi, Asif A. Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958-2016. NASA History Program Office, 2018.

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