The Rocket that Hopped | Summary and Q&A

October 6, 2023
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The Rocket that Hopped


Surveyor 6, a NASA robot, performed the first hop on the moon, leading to advancements in lunar exploration and inspiring future hopping missions to other celestial bodies.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Why did NASA send robots like Surveyor 6 to the moon before sending humans?

NASA sent robots to the moon first to gather important information about the lunar environment, such as soil properties and suitability for human exploration, ensuring the safety and success of future crewed missions.

Q: How did Surveyor 6 perform the first hop on the moon?

Surveyor 6 used its small veneer thrusters, typically used for fine adjustments, to perform a hop. By firing these engines for 2.5 seconds, the probe achieved a hang time of approximately 6 seconds and landed around 2.5 meters from its starting point.

Q: What were the benefits of Surveyor 6's hop on the moon?

The hop allowed Surveyor 6 to create stereo images of the lunar surface by combining photos with robot footprints, aiding scientists in better understanding the moon's topography. It also inspired the concept of hopping landers for future low-cost, long-distance missions to other celestial bodies.

Q: How might hopping missions benefit future exploration?

Hopping landers, like the proposed designs for missions to distant targets such as Pluto or Neptune's moon Triton, could be more cost-effective and less risky compared to rovers with wheels. Hopping also enables access to unfriendly terrain and provides new perspectives for scientific study.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Surveyor 6, part of the surveyor program, landed on the moon in 1967, before any humans went there, to analyze the lunar environment and assess its suitability for human exploration.

  • It performed various tasks such as taking photos, analyzing the lunar surface, measuring magnetic properties, and conducting erosion tests using its rocket engines.

  • To study the mechanical properties of the lunar soil, Surveyor 6 hopped by reactivating its liquid propellant engines for 2.5 seconds, landing about 2.5 meters away from the starting point.

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