Ranger 1 was intended to test new technologies that would take humankind to the Moon and other planets. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Launch Date August 23, 1961 | 10:04 UT
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA | Launch Complex 12 ​
Destination Vicinity of Earth's Moon
Type Orbiter
Status Unsuccessful
Nation United States
Alternate Names 1961-021A, P-32


Ranger 1 was intended to test new technologies that would take humankind to the Moon and other planets. It was also designed to study particles and fields as it traveled through space in a highly elliptical Earth orbit.


None. A malfunction left the spacecraft stranded in a deteriorating Earth orbit. The spacecraft burned up in Earth's atmosphere a week after launch.

In Depth

Ranger 1 was the first in a series of standardized spacecraft designed to roughland simple instrumented capsules on the surface of the Moon and take photos of the lunar surface during its descent to the Moon.

The spacecraft consisted of a tubular central body connected to a hexagonal base containing basic equipment required for control and communications. Power was provided by solar cells and a silver-zinc battery.

Ranger 1's specific mission was to test performance of the new technologies intended for operational Ranger flights and to study the nature of particles and fields in interplanetary space.

Its intended orbit was 37,300 x 684,000 miles (60,000 x 1.1 million kilometers). Ranger 1 was the first American spacecraft to use a parking orbit around Earth prior to its deep space mission.

In this case, the Agena B upper stage cut off almost immediately after its ignition for translunar injection (instead of firing for 90 seconds). The probe remained stranded in low-Earth orbit (311 x 140 miles or 501 x 168 kilometers), and telemetry ceased by Aug. 27, 1961, when the main battery went dead. The spacecraft reentered Earth's atmosphere three days later.

The cause of the Agena failure was traced to a malfunctioning switch that had prematurely choked the flow of the red fuming nitric acid to the rocket engine.

Key Dates

Aug. 23, 1961 | 10:04 UT: Launch

Aug. 23, 1961: Contact Lost


Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Agena B (no. 1 / Atlas D no. 111 / Agena B no. 6001)

Spacecraft Mass: 675 pounds (306.18 kilograms)

Spacecraft Instruments:

  1. electrostatic analyzer
  2. photoconductive particle detectors
  3. Rubidium vapor magnetometer
  4. triple-coincidence cosmic-ray telescope
  5. cosmic-ray integrating ionization chamber
  6. x-ray scintillation detectors
  7. micrometeoroid dust particle detectors
  8. Lyman alpha scanning telescope

Additional Resources

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Ranger 1

Ranger Program Fact Sheet

Selected References

Siddiqi, Asif A. Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, NASA, 2002.

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