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24 September 1970 - Luna 16 Returns First Automatic Lunar Soil Sample

The date is 24 September 1970.

The USSR has lost the space race. The US landed its first man on the Moon a year before.

But they didn't give up and see a glimmer of success on this day. At 05:25 in the morning, 80 kilometers southeast of Jezkazgan, Kazakhstan a small parachute with attached capsule touches down.

After 5 unsuccessful attempts, Luna 16 probe returns to Earth with 101 grams of lunar soil.

It is the third sample ever to return from the Moon, after the manned Apollo 11 & 12 missions brought back samples as well. 

But it is the first automatic sample that returned.

101g of pure lunar soil!

Soft landing of the whole probe, collection of the sample and a successful return to Earth.

On the left side is the full Luna 16 probe, on the right the return probe.

Fun fact: Three seed-sized pieces of lunar rock that were brought back to Earth by the Luna 16 were auctioned off by Sotheby's in 1993 for $442,500!

 

Луна-16 or Luna 16


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