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Picture of Moon's farside
NASA

Luna

With increased confidence from the success of their Sputnik missions, the Soviet Union launched 24 Luna spacecrafts to the Moon, between 1959 and 1976. 15 were successful, each designed as either an orbiter or lander, and accomplished many firsts in space exploration. They also performed many experiments, studying the Moon's chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation.

Luna 1 missed its intended impact with the Moon and became the first spacecraft to fall into orbit around the Sun. In 1959, the second Luna mission successfully impacted the lunar surface, becoming the first man-made object to reach another world. Luna 3 orbited the Moon later that year, and returned the first photographs of its far side, which can never be seen from Earth.

The Soviet Union soon learned to build spacecrafts which could perform soft landings on the lunar surface, and send back panoramic photos from their landing sites. Lunas 17 and 21 even carried roving vehicles which roamed around on the Moon's terrain.

Another major achievement of the Luna program was the ability to collect samples of lunar soil and return them to Earth, by 1970. However, these accomplishments were overshadowed by the U.S. Apollo missions which had already placed humans on the Moon by this time.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA