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Luna 1, the First Spacecraft To Get Close to the Moon

Luna 1 launched on 2 January 1959 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kzachstan on a SS-6 Sapwood rocket. 

As part of the Soviet Luna program, its goal was to crash land on the Moon.

The US had attempted this before with the Pioneer 0, 1 and 2 missions. But they all failed.

So it was the Soviets chance to shine.

Unfortunately due to a incorrectly timed upper stage burn, the Luna 1 missed its target by 5,900 km.

Luna 1 Mission Firsts

It was the first attempt to reach the Moon, and although it didn't impact there, the Luna 1 mission set a lot firsts:

  • First firing of a rocket in Earth orbit
  • First reaching Earth escape velocity or Trans Lunar Injection
  • First detection of solar wind
  • First spacecraft to reach heliocentric orbit

Sodium Release Experiment

One day after launch, on 3 January 1959, when the Luna 1 was 119,500 kilometres (or 74,300 miles) from Earth, it released 1 kilogram of sodium gas.

That formed an lowing orange trail of gas behind the probe and allowed astronomers to study the behaviour of gas in space.

The Luna 2 had a similar experiment on board, here is what that looked like:

Next Attempt

Luna 1 was designed to be a lunar impactor but due to an error it didn't reach its goal. Nine months later the goal achieved when Luna 2 crash landed on the Moon.

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