By 6:05 a.m. on Friday morning, July 31, JPL's visitors' gallery in the Space Flight Operations Facility was packed. Below and in front of them, flight controllers at consoles monitored Ranger 7′s telemetry. It was 20 minutes before Ranger 7's scheduled impact, and the onboard video cameras were on and starting to warm up. Ninety seconds later JPL got a strong signal from all six on board.
Then, at 6:25 a.m., the hum of Ranger 7′s telemetry stopped abruptly. The spacecraft had impacted with the surface right on schedule, and it had sent back a series of stunning images. The silence in mission control and the visitors' gallery was replaced by applause as they realized that NASA and the nation had captured the first closeup pictures of the moon's surface.
It was a fantastic success after the run of failures, and whether or not peanuts had anything to do with it, the tradition has been in place every since.
Image: During Curiosity's landing on Aug. 5, there was no shortage of peanuts in JPL's mission control. Credit: NASA