1961-08-23 USA Ranger 1

From August 1961 through January 1964, the United States launched a series of Ranger spacecrafts to the moon in vain attempts to take close-up photographs of the lunar surface. Launched on 23 August 1961, Ranger 1 was the first United States spacecraft designed to test the feasibility of going into a parking orbit around earth before heading out to the moon.

Photo: The Ranger 1 spacecraft.
A parking orbit gives engineers time to calculate a much more accurate trajectory for the spacecraft to follow to the moon. Ranger 1 made it into low earth orbit. Its engines, which were supposed to re-ignite after 13 minutes and burn for 90 seconds, only burnt for a few seconds and then shut off. The spacecraft eventually re-entered earth's atmosphere after completing 111 orbits.

Ranger 1 launch cover with Swanson cachet, cancelled at Patrick Air Force Base, August 23, 1961.
Zaso cover with a paste-on cachet of Ranger 1, cancelled at Port Canaveral, August 23, 1961.