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The Luna 2

On This Day: Soviet Luna 2 Space Probe Reaches Moon

September 15, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Sept. 14, 1959, the Soviet probe Luna 2 crashed onto the surface of the moon, becoming the first man-made object to reach it.

Luna 1 and Luna 2

The Soviet Union’s space program launched the spacecraft Luna 1 toward the moon on Jan. 2, 1959, likely intending for it to impact the moon’s surface. It got within 5,995 kilometers of the moon before entering the orbit of the sun.

Having narrowly missed its target, Soviet engineers built Luna 2, which had the same spherical design and many of the same instruments as Luna 1. Like Luna 1, it carried two balls of pentagon-shaped metal pennants with Soviet imagery, which were designed to scatter on the moon’s surface.

The Luna 2 was launched on Sept. 12, 1959. After 33.5 hours of flight, it crash-landed on the moon’s surface. “The ship itself was shattered,” says NASA, “but its mission was a success. Luna 2 from the Soviet Union had become the first manmade object to ‘land’ on the moon.”

The mission proved that the moon had no significant magnetic field and no radiation belts. It served little scientific purpose beyond that, though American astrogeologist Don E. Wilhelms writes that it “initiated the era of direct contact that would be necessary for learning the composition and age of the lunar surface rocks.”

Legacy of the Luna 2

The Luna Program would send 24 spacecrafts toward the moon. “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),” writes Wired.

The success of the Luna 2 also influenced the way NASA designed its spacecrafts. “This may seem hard to believe,” says NASA, “but Luna 2 started a trend: Crash landing on the Moon, on purpose. Dozens of spaceships have done it.” NASA sent five Rangers spacecrafts to the moon in the 1960s, each arriving with a crash.

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