Lunar Orbiter 2

past Mission




Nov. 6, 1966


Earth's Moon


Photograph potential Apollo landing sites

Lunar Orbiter 2's primary mission was to photograph smooth areas of the lunar surface to help select safe landing sites for the Apollo missions. The spacecraft took photos covering nearly 1.6 million square miles (4 million square kilometers) of the Moon's surface.

Spacecraft above the Moon.
An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Orbiter at the Moon.

What was Lunar Orbiter 2?

Like its predecessor, Lunar Orbiter 2 was designed primarily to collect images of the lunar surface, for safe landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo missions. These included a spectacular oblique picture of Copernicus crater which was dubbed by the news media as one of the great pictures of the century. Also, radiation experiments confirmed that the design of Apollo hardware would protect the astronauts from average and greater-than-average short term exposure to solar particle events.

United States of America (USA)
Lunar Orbit
LO-B (Spacecraft 5)
Spacecraft Mass
850 pounds (385.6 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management
Launch Vehicle
Atlas Agena D (Atlas Agena D no. 18 / Atlas D no. 5802 / Agena D no. AD122/6631)
Launch Date and Time
Nov. 6, 1966 / 23:21:00 UT
Launch Site
Cape Canaveral, Florida / Launch Complex 13
Scientific Instruments
1. Imaging System
2. Micrometeoroid Detectors
3. Radiation Dosimeters

Key Dates

Nov. 6, 1966: Launch

Nov. 10, 1966: Spacecraft arrived in lunar orbit

Nov. 18, 1966: Photography mission began

Oct. 11, 1967: Spacecraft deliberately crashed on the Moon

In Depth: Lunar Orbiter 2

Lunar Orbiter 2’s mission was to photograph 13 primary and 17 secondary landings sites for the Apollo program in the northern region of the Moon’s near side equatorial area.

After a course correction on the way to the Moon, on Nov. 10, 1966, the spacecraft entered a 122 × 1,150-mile (196 × 1,850-kilometer) orbit around the Moon. After 33 orbits, Lunar Orbiter 2 was moved to its photographic orbit with a perilune (closest point to the surface) of about 31 miles (49.7 kilometers).

On Nov. 18, 1966, Lunar Orbiter 2 began its photography mission, returning excellent quality medium and high-resolution photographs, including the impact point of Ranger 8. The spacecraft ended its photography mission Nov. 26, 1966, and transmission of the images was concluded Dec. 7, 1966, by which time the probe had transmitted back 211 pictures of both the near side of the Moon and large areas of the far side.

These photos covered nearly 1.6 million square miles (4 million square kilometers) of the lunar surface. The high-gain transmitter failed during this time but did not significantly affect the coverage afforded by the photos.

On Nov. 23, 1966, Lunar Orbiter 2 took perhaps the most memorable photo of any in the series, a spectacular shot looking across the Copernicus crater from an altitude of only 28 miles (45 kilometers) that vividly emphasized the three-dimensional nature of the lunar surface.

Lunar Orbiter 2's telephoto lens took this picture of the floor of the crater Copernicus. Photograph published in Winds of Change, 75th Anniversary NASA publication, by James Schultz.

On Dec. 8, 1966, after the main photographic mission was over, Lunar Orbiter 2 fired its main engine to change its orbital plane in order to provide tracking data of the Moon’s gravitational field over a wider swath.

Finally, on Oct. 11, 1967, when attitude control gas was almost depleted, a retro-burn deliberately crashed the spacecraft onto the lunar surface at 4 degrees south latitude and 98 degrees east longitude on the far side of the Moon to prevent communications interference on future missions.

Key Source

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

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