This famous “Earthrise” image was taken from Apollo 8 just after it emerged from behind the Moon.
Courtesy of NASA

To the Moon!

This iconic image was taken in 1968 from Apollo 8 just after the spacecraft emerged from behind the Moon.

During the Cold War, the United States competed with the Soviet Union to reach the Moon. Both nations began by sending robotic spacecraft in 1959. Mission planners experimented with celestial navigation and radio transmissions to determine spacecraft locations in space. The early missions missed their target because precision paths were difficult to achieve. The first U.S. spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity and get near the Moon was Pioneer 4. It worked with the new tracking antennae at Goldstone, California, which was the first of several antennas that make up the Deep Space Network.  

In the early 1960s, Ranger spacecraft were designed to land on the surface of the Moon. After some initial failures, Rangers 7, 8, and 9 impacted the lunar surface. In 1968 humans orbited the Moon. To accomplish this, engineers had to think about navigating in a different environment—space.

Downloadable Resources

  • Navigating in Space by the Stars

    During the early days of space flight, engineers planned with the navigation techniques they knew. They taught astronauts to take star sightings and determine their position using celestial navigation, just as sailors and pilots did.

Related Artifacts & Multimedia Assets


Unflown duplicate of Pioneer 4, an early satellite designed for lunar exploration. 


Wernher von Braun, John Casani, and James Van Allen inspect the Pioneer 4 satellite.


First tested by Pioneer 4, this 26-meter antenna would later become part of the Deep Space Network.


NASA planned to place the Ranger 1 satellite into an elliptical orbit around Earth, but it never reaching its intended orbit. 


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