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:
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.