Ranger 3 was a space exploration mission conducted by NASA to study the Moon. The Ranger 3 robotic spacecraft was launched January 26, 1962 as part of the Ranger program. Due to a series of malfunctions, the spacecraft missed the Moon by 22,000 mi (35,000 km) and entered a heliocentric orbit.
The Ranger 3 space probe was designed to transmit pictures of the lunar surface during a period of 10 minutes of flight prior to impacting on the Moon, to rough-land a seismometer capsule on the Moon, to collect gamma-ray data in flight, to study radar reflectivity of the lunar surface, and to continue testing of the Ranger program for development of lunar and interplanetary spacecraft.
 Spacecraft design
Ranger 3 was the first of the Block II Ranger designs. The basic vehicle was 3.1 m high and consisted of a lunar capsule covered with a balsa wood impact-limiter, 650 mm in diameter, a mono-propellant mid-course motor, a retrorocket with a thrust of 5080 pounds force (22.6 kN), and a gold- and chrome-plated hexagonal base 1.5 m in diameter. A large high-gain dish antenna was attached to the base. Two wing-like solar panels (5.2 m across) were attached to the base and deployed early in the flight. Power was generated by 8680 solar cells contained in the solar panels which charged an 11.5 kg 1 kW·h capacity AgZn launching and backup battery. Spacecraft control was provided by a solid-state computer and sequencer and an earth-controlled command system. Attitude control was provided by Sun and Earth sensors, gyroscopes, and pitch and roll jets. The telemetry system aboard the spacecraft consisted of two 960 MHz transmitters, one at 3 W power output and the other at 50 mW power output, the high-gain antenna, and an omni-directional antenna. White paint, gold and chrome plating, and a silvered plastic sheet encasing the retrorocket furnished thermal control.
The experimental apparatus included: (1) a vidicon television camera, which employed a scan mechanism that yielded one complete frame in 10 s; (2) a gamma-ray spectrometer mounted on a 1.8 m boom; (3) a radar altimeter; and (4) a seismometer to be rough-landed on the lunar surface. The seismometer (code-named "Tonto") was encased in the lunar capsule along with an amplifier, a 50 mW transmitter, voltage control, a turnstile antenna, and 6 silver-cadmium batteries capable of operating the lunar capsule transmitter for 30 days, all designed to land on the Moon at 130 to 160 km/h (80 to 100 mph). The radar altimeter would be used for reflectivity studies, but was also designed to initiate capsule separation and ignite the retro-rocket.
The mission was designed to boost towards the Moon by an Atlas/Agena, undergo one mid-course correction, and impact the lunar surface. At the appropriate altitude, the capsule was to separate and the retrorockets ignite to cushion the landing. A malfunction in the booster guidance system resulted in excessive spacecraft speed. Reversed command signals caused the spacecraft to pitch in the wrong direction and the TM antenna to lose earth acquisition, and mid-course correction was not possible. Finally, a spurious signal during the terminal maneuver prevented transmission of useful TV pictures. Ranger 3 missed the Moon by approximately 36,800 km on 28 January and is now in a heliocentric orbit. Some useful engineering data were obtained from the flight.
This was the first U.S. attempt to achieve impact on the lunar surface. The Block II Ranger spacecraft carried a TV camera that used an optical telescope that would allow imaging down to about 24 kilometers above the lunar surface during the descent. The main bus also carried a 42.6-kilogram instrument capsule that would separate from the bus at 21.4 kilometers altitude and then independently impact on the Moon. Protected by a balsa-wood outer casing, the capsule was designed to bounce several times on the lunar surface before coming to rest. The primary onboard instrument was a seismometer. Because of a malfunction in the Atlas guidance system (due to faulty transistors), the probe was inserted into a lunar transfer trajectory with an excessive velocity. A subsequent incorrect course change ensured that the spacecraft reached the Moon 14 hours early and missed it by 36,793 kilometers on 28 January. The central computer and sequencer failed, and the spacecraft returned no TV images. The probe did, however, provide scientists with the first measurements of interplanetary gamma-ray flux. Ranger 3 eventually entered and currently maintains a heliocentric orbit.
 Popular culture
In the 1979-81 NBC science fiction television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the opening narration to each episode stated that Buck Rogers was the pilot of Ranger 3, the last of NASA's deep space probes, launched in 1987. Ranger 3 was essentially a version of the U.S. space shuttle and looked nothing like the actual probe. It is further related than an on-board accident caused Buck to enter a frozen state and hurled Ranger 3 into a wide orbit that returned Buck to Earth 500 years later.
- "National Space Science Data Center - Ranger 3". National Air and Space Administration. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
 See also