On This Day: NASA’s Ranger 8 rocket crashes into the moon

FEBRUARY 20, 1965: NASA’s Ranger 8 rocket crashed into the moon on this day in 1965, while scouting possible landing sites for the first manned mission.

Millions watched live on TV as the unmanned probe intentionally impacted the Sea of Tranquillity, after sending more than 7,000 photos to earth.

A British Pathé newsreel showed the moment it crashed – with a satellite filming a small flash coming from the moon’s surface.

The culmination of the 250,000-mile journey, which took 66 hours, ensured America finally moved ahead in the Space Race after earlier Soviet victories.

Ranger 8, the second of three similar probing missions before the 1969 moon landing, proved the surface could bear the weight of a manned spacecraft.

Its six vidicon cameras also beamed back high-resolution images that helped scientists better understand the celestial body orbiting the Earth.

Ranger 9’s launch from Cape Kennedy – named for the assassinated president who in 1961 vowed to send a man to the moon – generated a tremendous excitement.

The 250,000-mile journey took 66 hours and ensured America finally moved ahead in the Space Race (Pathe)

For the first time since 1957 – when the Soviet Union sent satellite Sputnik and dog Laika into orbit – the U.S. appeared to have moved ahead in the Space Race.

The communists’ success prompted U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to launched this Cold War technology contest amid fears that rockets could become weapons.

[On This Day: Astronaut John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth]

But despite the capitalist country having superior economic resources at its disposal, the Americans would long be hampered by setbacks.

Following three crashes, it took until the end of January, 1958, for the U.S. to get a satellite in space.

By December, the Americans had sent a living creature into space and in May 1959, monkeys Able and Baker became the first animals to survive the trip.

For the first time since 1957 the U.S. appeared to have moved ahead in the Space Race. (Pathe)

But the Americans' achievements were eclipsed on April 12, 1961 when the Soviet Union put the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space.

Just weeks later, Alan Shepherd became the first American to be sent into the orbit and from then on both sides competed to be the first to put a man on the moon.

The Americans got there first – and effectively won the Space Race – when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins touched down on July 20, 1969.

[On This Day: Sputnik II and Laika, the first dog in space, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere]

Armstrong took the first ever steps on the moon and famously declared: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'

Yet few people at the time realised just how close the USSR came to dashing JFK’s dream.

This picture showed the moment it crashed – with a satellite filming a small flash coming from the moon’s …

The secretive Soviets kept under wraps the fact that, 17 days earlier, its own N1 moon rocket exploded seconds after lift-off, causing the biggest non-nuclear blast in history.

Details of the explosion, which was powerful enough to level a town the size of Luton, were only revealed after the fall of communism in the 1990s.

[On This Day: Hubble space telescope launches on Space Shuttle Discovery]

The lid was also lifted on how the brave Bolsheviks kept on trying – and failing – with ten launches between 1969 and 1974, when its moon programme was axed.

NASA successfully landed six manned shuttles on the moon between 1969 and 1972 when the U.S. government ended its expensive programme.