Today in History – September 14, 1959 – In 1959, a spaceship fell out of the lunar sky and hit the ground near the Sea of Serenity. Although the ship itself was shattered, the mission was considered a success, making Luna 2 from the Soviet Union the first manmade object to “land” on the Moon. The U.S. lunar orbiters came next, followed by Japan’s Hiten spacecraft.
It does seem like a big waste, but crash landing was the main mode of landing for the next decade of moon landings. NASA’s series of Rangers in the 1960′s had five crashes, but were able to transmit the first detailed images of lunar craters, rocks and soil before being destroyed by the crash. These images beamed back to Earth provided information critical for the success of later Apollo missions.
Alas this means that the Moon has become a graveyard for old satellites and spaceships, including all five of NASA’s Lunar Orbiters (1966-1972), four Soviet Luna probes (1959-1965), two Apollo sub-satellites (1970-1971), Japan’s Hiten spacecraft (1993) and NASA’s Lunar Prospector (1999).
The Japanese were the third country that we know of on the moon. I find it interesting that their spacecraft was named the “Hiten” after the Buddhist flying angel, pictured below playing the flute in a sculpture by Okita Toshiki.
The first attempted soft landing wasn’t until May 1965 with the Soviet’s Lunar 5; but it failed and crashed in the Sea of Clouds area of the moon. The Luna 9 (center photo above) was successful a year later, transmitting data from the Ocean of Storms lunar area. Later in 1966, NASA’s Surveyor 1 (right photo) was the first soft-landed robotic laboratory, landing in the Ocean of Storms area.