63 Years Ago Today, the First Human-Made Object Crashed on the Moon

Luna 2, launched aboard a Vostok rocket in 1959, was the first human-made object to successfully crash on the surface of the Moon.

On September 14, 63 years ago, the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 probe, launched two days earlier from Baikonur Cosmodrome, became the first human object to reach the surface of the Moon. The Luna 2 spacecraft, originally called the Second Soviet Cosmic Rocket and referred to as Lunik 2 in contemporaneous media, was the sixth spacecraft of the Soviet Union’s Luna program to be launched to the Moon.

Launched aboard a Vostok rocket in 1959, the probe weighed 390 kilograms and measured 0.9 meters in diameter, and crashed successfully east of Mare Imbrium, near the Aristides and Archimedes. An approximate location of the impact point is 0 degrees longitude, 29.1 degrees north latitude in Palus Putredinus. The mission was the first to reach the moon successfully. Similar to its predecessor, Luna 1, which only reached the vicinity of the Moon, Luna 2 was a spherical probe with protruding antennae and instrument parts.

An illustration of the Luna 2 probe. Image Credit: NASA/NSSDCA.
An illustration of the Luna 2 probe. Image Credit: NASA/NSSDCA.

Luna 2 was also equipped with scintillation counters, Geiger counters, magnetometers, Cherenkov detectors, and micrometeorite detectors. A propulsion system was not present. Luna 2 transmitted information back to Earth using three different transmitters after separating from the upper stage of its rocket at its final leg, confirming its impact. A vapor cloud was released on September 13 in order to provide a visual representation of the spacecraft while in transit. This cloud expanded to 650 kilometers in diameter and was visible from several observatories.

The vapor cloud served as an experiment to learn how sodium gas behaves in zero gravity and a vacuum. The last stage of the Vostok rocket that accompanied the spacecraft to the Moon did not carry any type of tracking device, so it is not known exactly where it ended up. A pennant with the USSR’s name and launch date engraved in Cyrillic was detonated before impacting the moon’s surface, sending pentagonal shields in all directions. As far as radiation belts and magnetic belts around the Moon are concerned, Luna 2 did not detect them.

Ranger missions made later by the U.S. ended similarly. Despite the development of soft landing techniques, such controlled crashes remain useful. By analyzing the debris that was thrown out by hard spacecraft impacts, NASA investigated whether shadowed Moon craters contained ice.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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