|In the early 1960s, the surface properties of the Moon were largely unknown. Most astronauts thought that walking on the Moon was going to be a fun but dusty experience. And some scientists thought that our lunar module, with us inside, might sink out of sight in deep dust. Others thought that electrostatically charged dust might leap up and over the windows, making it impossible to land safely. The only way to answer these critical questions was to send unmanned explorers to the Moon first.
Surveyor III, the second of five unmanned explorers to land on the Moon, touched firmly down on the Ocean of Storms in April 1967. Its television camera took 6,000 photographs and a soil-mechanics/surface-sampler scoop performed a number of successful experiments. Its mission completed, Surveyor III rested quietly on the 13-degree slope of the 656-foot-diameter crater where it landed.
In the early morning hours of November 19, 1969, a strange, bug-like spaceship landed just beyond the far rim of the Surveyor's crater. A short time later, two creatures in bulky white suits crawled out of the spaceship and began to move about on the surface. Two human explorers from Earth were there to find Surveyor and bring some key pieces - the television, the scoop, a piece of cable, and an unpainted support strut - back to Earth for evaluation. It was a unique opportunity to evaluate the influence of prolonged exposure to the lunar environment on typical spacecraft systems.
I have painted a perfect storybook moment as Pete Conrad and I approached Surveyor III. We had traveled a long way, 239,000 miles. A friendly but historic greeting between explorers seemed in order.