With the USSR's launch of the unmanned
Unfortunately, early NASA programs more often than not were overwhelming failures while the USSR was already taking photographs of the moon courtesy of their Luna probes and making plans to make a soft landing on the moon's surface. It was imperative that NASA's Ranger series of probes be a success. The idea was to launch the spacecraft—each equipped with an array of television cameras—on a collision course with the moon, taking pictures during those final minutes before impact. Unfortunately, the first six in the series succumbed to technical failures or missed the moon entirely. For NASA, the success of Ranger 7 was imperative. Luckily, with no technical foul-ups plaguing the mission, the Ranger 7 was able to transmit photos that revealed details of the lunar surface that could not have been observed via telescope and helped pave the way for the first manned lunar landing in 1969.
You can see a replica of Ranger 7 at the Air and Space Museum in gallery 112—it was assembled from the parts of Ranger test vehicles. You can also check out the video footage shot by Ranger 7 below as well as an extended piece on the space mission published by Air and Space magazine.