Space Tech Anniversary: Luna 9 Lands on the Moon

The Moon from Luna 9. Credit: Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester

February 3, 1966: The first spacecraft to land on any non-Earth planetary body, the Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 9 reaches the Moon.

Equipped with radio and television capability, heat control system, power sources and a radiation detector, the payload touched down in Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”). Immediately thereafter, the four-panel seal opened and Luna 9 set to work, recording eight hours and five minutes of radio and a series of three television broadcasts, which were transmitted back to Earth over the course of the three-day life of the lander. These images created the first panoramic photographs of the Moon’s surface.

The most important discoveries from this mission were not related to the images, though. Luna 9’s landing showed that the lunar surface was hard enough to support landing equipment (as it was previously thought that crafts would sink into the dust) and that the Moon receives 0.3 milligrays of radiation on average, or about 20% as much as an x-ray.

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