There are stories about the Moon going back as far the oral traditions of ancestors will take us, yet, only a handful of people have ever been to the Moon. The preparations for going to, and coming back from, the Moon are a storied part of our history as the people of the world.
A lunar monument, tucked away in Mission: SPACE’s courtyard, showcases the impact and landing sites for the twenty-nine spacecraft that connected with the Moon during the space race. Though there is so much history to these programs, and so many spacecrafts that did not make it all the way to the Moon, today we will look at the interesting facts, stories, and historical milestones that these spacecraft have to offer.
The Luna Missions were the canopy under which a majority of the U.S.S.R.’s unmanned Moon missions took place. The historic in many ways, only 17 of the 45 Luna missions were considered a success.
Luna 2 – The first spacecraft landed on the Moon on 12 September 1959 when Luna 2 impacted.
Luna 5 – Though it had guidance and gyroscope malfunctions, Luna 5 would reach the Moon.
Luna 7 – A successful midcourse correction set Luna 7 for a soft landing on the Moon, unfortunately Luna 7 impacted into the Moon after its main engine was unable to fire.
Luna 8 – A plastic mounting bracket pierced one of Luna 8’s inflatable air cushions, the release of air caused Luna 8 to spin into its landing.
Luna 9 – The first survivable landing of a manmade object on the Moon, Luna 9 was also the first spacecraft constructed by the Lavochkin design bureau.
Luna 13 – Unlike Luna 9, Luna 13 carried with it scientific instruments designed for experimentation.
Luna 16 – Though Apollo 11 and 12 returned with lunar samples, Luna 16 was the first robotic spacecraft to complete this feat without human involvement.
Luna 17 – The first in a series of robotic lunar rovers, Lunokhod 1, was deployed by Luna 17.
Luna 18 – Though contact was lost, Luna 18 did impact with the Moon’s surface.
Luna 20 – Sent to complete the mission of Luna 18, Luna 20 returned samples of lunar material to Earth.
Luna 21 – Lunokhod 2, carried aboard Luna 21, was outfitted with a third camera, an 8-wheel traction system, and scientific equipment, all were improvements over the original Lunkokhod 1.
Luna 23 – Luna 16 and 20 had returned lunar samples, but Luna 23 would return a deep core sample from a depth of 2.5 meters.
Luna 24 – The last Soviet or Russian lunar spacecraft, Luna 24 returned a lunar sample from a mascon (a region of a planet or moon's crust that contains a large positive gravitational anomaly) in Mare Crisium.
The Ranger Missions were designed to photograph the Moon and send them back to Earth in real time. These pictures would not only assist in the scientific study of the Moon, but would help locate potential landing sites for the Apollo missions. The Ranger spacecrafts were each only a one-time use craft, as they would continue to photograph and send pictures of the Moon until they crashed on to its face.
Ranger 4 – Though it malfunctioned during its flight, Ranger 4 would become the first American spacecraft to reach another entity in outer space when it crashed.
Ranger 6 – With a flight and landing that went flawlessly, Ranger 6 appeared to be the first total success of the Ranger program, until it was unable to provide any pictures due to a short in the power supply for the camera.
Ranger 7 – Cameras began rolling 15 minutes before impact, and Ranger 7 sent back 4,316, with the last photograph taken only 2.3 seconds before its collision with the Moon.
Ranger 8 – Continuing on the success of Ranger 7, Ranger 8 returned 7,137 images during 23 minutes.
Ranger 9 – With 5,814 photographs taken in 19 minutes, Ranger 9 was able to give the world a better view of the moon, as the images were altered in order to be broadcast on television.
Picking up where the Ranger Missions left, the Surveyor Missions were designed with a slant towards the engineering that would be needed to complete a successful landing and take-off from the Moon. Through photography, they would also help isolate landing spots for the upcoming manned missions.
Surveyor 1 – A perfect landing, with 11,000 plus photographs taken. Surveyor 1 maintained contact with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory until 7 January 1967 (it landed on 30 May 1966).
Surveyor 3 – After landing, Surveyor 3 began digging on the surface of the Moon in view of its onboard camera.
Surveyor 5 – Landing with a helium regulator leak, Surveyor 5 would go on to outperform its ancestors.
Surveyor 6 – To better understand the reaction and traits of soil that is disturbed during a landing, Surveyor 6 moved 2.5 meters by performing a hopping maneuver after its initial landing and, by doing so, became the first spacecraft to lift-off from the Moon.
Surveyor 7 – A mostly scientific mission, Surveyor 7 investigated laser-pointing procedures by identifying lasers from Earth.
The goal of the Apollo Missions was to send humans to the Moon and return them home safely. The advancement of scientific knowledge during these missions was accomplished through various experiments including: soil mechanics, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments. It should be noted that Apollo 13 was unable to complete its original mission of landing on the Moon due to an air canister explosion. However, the success of the mission to return the astronauts to Earth should also be considered.
Apollo 11 – The first human walked on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 11’s landing site was the Sea of Tranquility.
Apollo 12 – The second manned observation of the lunar surface. Apollo 12’s landing site was the Ocean of Storms.
Apollo 14 – Able to return a greater quantity of lunar material, Apollo 14’s mission objectives mirrored those of Apollo 13. Apollo 14’s landing site was the Fra Mauro highlands.
Apollo 15 – The lunar roving vehicle was first used. Apollo 15’s landing site was Hadley Rille.
Apollo 16 – Precise mapping photographs and the collections of lunar samples from 11 different sites marked the 71 hour lunar landing. Apollo 16’s landing site was Descartes.
Apollo 17 – The final mission of the Apollo program was also the longest with a 72 hour stay on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 17’s landing site was Taurus-Littrow.