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Mercredi, 14 Septembre 2011 12:00

Sept. 14, 1959: Moon Feels First Cold Touch of Humans

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Sept. 14, 1959: Moon Feels First Cold Touch of Humans

1959: Luna 2 becomes the first artifact of humanity to strike the moon.

The Soviet Union launched the Sputnik-like probe from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sept. 12. It took 33.5 hours to reach its destination. Hitting the moon, as prestigious an accomplishment as it was for the young Soviet space program, was not Luna 2’s only objective. Prior to impact, the craft also sent back data confirming, among other things, that the moon had neither a magnetic field nor any radiation belts.

Because Luna 2 itself lacked a propulsion system, it was guided along by the third stage of its SS-6 booster rocket until the two separated shortly before impact. The probe hit the lunar surface east of Mare Serenitatis (momentarily disrupting the serenity near the Sea of Serenity), near the Aristides and Archimedes craters. The booster’s third stage hit the moon about half-an-hour later.

Luna 2 was the second in the Soviet Union’s ambitious and long-running Luna program, which collected information about the lunar environment at least in part to prepare for a Russian attempt to land a man on the moon, which failed to materialize.

Four Luna probes (2, 9, 13 and 15) reached the moon before Neil Armstrong did, but the biggest prize of all eluded the Soviets, and the Luna program came to an end with Luna 24 in 1976.

Despite the failure of the Soviet Union to get a man to the moon, the Luna program must be considered a success in the long view. Among its scientific achievements and firsts: first lunar flyby (Luna 1), first landing (Luna 2), first photographs from the dark side of the moon (Luna 3), first successful soft landing on the lunar surface (Luna 13), first analysis of lunar soil, and first deployment of a lunar rover (Luna 17).

Source: NASA, Lunar Planetary Institute

Photo: Luna 2 (NASA)

This article first appeared on Sept. 14, 2007.


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