(WHTM) — In 2021 we witnessed one of the most spectacular successes in space exploration history-the launch and deployment of the Webb Telescope. Everything that could go wrong — didn’t.

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Things didn’t go so well in the early 1960s, particularly for the Ranger spacecraft. These were a series of unmanned space probes designed for deep space exploration. They were supposed to crash land on the moon, beaming back pictures as they plunged to their doom, to help scientist figure out if the moon actually had a surface on which astronauts could safely land. (This was a huge worry back then.)

If ever a space program seemed like it was under a curse, the Ranger project was it.

Both Ranger 1 and Ranger 2, sent up in 1961, ended up in low Earth orbits due to launch failures, eventually burning up on re-entry into the atmosphere.

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Then it was Ranger 3’s turn. It launched on January 26, 1962. The rocket’s guidance system malfunctioned, causing the spacecraft to enter space traveling too fast. Then reversed command signals caused the spacecraft to pitch in the wrong direction. Its antenna lost touch with Earth, making it impossible to perform any sort of course correction. Then they lost the TV signal. Ranger 3 missed the Moon by approximately 36,800 km (about 22,000 miles) on January 28. It ultimately went into orbit around the sun. The nasa.gov site laconically notes “Some useful engineering data were obtained from the flight.”

The failures continued. Ranger 4 actually impacted on the moon as planned-after the instruments failed so no data came back. Ranger 5 managed to send back some gamma-ray data; then its batteries failed, it missed the moon by 725 km (450 mi.) and joined Ranger 3 in orbit around the sun. Ranger 6 impacted on the Moon precisely as planned-but sent back no video and camera data.

Finally, on July 28, 1964, Ranger 7 broke the curse. It launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and reached the Moon On July 31. During its last 17 minutes of flight, before crashing on the lunar surface, it sent back 4,316 images. The last one, taken 2.3 seconds before impact, had a resolution of just 1/2 meter.

(As the story goes, when the Mercury Astronauts viewed the film of the Ranger 7 crash landing, Astronaut Wally Schirra got a big laugh by yelling “Bail out, you fool!”)

Both Rangers 8 and 9, the last of the program, performed perfectly, sending back thousands of images and video. The data sent back by the last three Rangers helped determine landing spots for the Apollo astronauts when the first manned missions to the Moon lifted off in the 1960s and 1970s.