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Fraser
2016-Feb-03, 10:20 PM
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On this date half a century ago the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made humanity's*first-ever soft landing on the surface of the Moon. Launched from Baikonur on Jan. 31, 1966, Luna 9*lander touched down within Oceanus Procellarum somewhere in the neighborhood of*7.08N, 64.37E* at 18:44:52 UTC on Feb. 3. The fourth successful mission in the USSR's long-running Luna series, Luna 9 sent us our first views of the Moon's surface from the surface and, perhaps even more importantly, confirmed that a landing by spacecraft was indeed possible.
The entire Luna 9 lander (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap970907.html)*was made up of*two main parts: a*1,439-kg flight/descent stage*which contained retro-rockets and orientation engines, navigation systems, and various fuel tanks, and a 99-kg (218-lb) pressurized "automatic lunar station" that contained all the science and imaging instruments*along with batteries, heaters, and a radio transmitter.
When*a probe on*the descent stage detected contact with the lunar surface, the spherical station encased in an inflated airbag was jettisoned to soft-land a safe distance away after a bit of bouncing, of course; the lander*hit the Moon's surface at*about 22 km/hr (13 mph)!
Once the airbag cushions deflated Luna 9, like a shiny metal flower, opened its four "petals," extended its radio antennas and began taking*panoramic television camera images of its surroundings, at the time lit by a very low Sun on the lunar horizon. Received on Earth early on Feb. 4, 1966, they were the*first pictures taken from the*surface of the Moon and in fact the first images acquired from the surface of another world.
Read more: What Other Worlds Have We Landed On? (http://www.universetoday.com/118165/what-other-worlds-have-we-landed-on/)
Other missions, both Soviet and American (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/ranger.html), had captured close-up images of the Moon in previous years but Luna 9*was the first to soft-land (i.e., not crash land) and operate from the surface. The spacecraft continued transmitting image data to Earth until its batteries ran out on the night of Feb. 6, 1966. A total of four panoramas were acquired*by Luna 9 over the course of three days, as well as data on radiation levels on the Moon's surface (not to mention the valuable knowledge that a spacecraft wouldn't just completely sink into the lunar regolith!)
Four months later, on June 2, 1966, NASA's Surveyor 1 (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1966-045A) would become the first U.S. spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon. Surveyor 1 would send back science data and 11,240 photos over the course of a*month in operation but, in terms of the space "race," Luna 9 will always be remembered as*first place winner.
Want to see more pictures from Luna 9 and other Soviet Moon missions? Check out Don P. Mitchell's dedicated page here (http://mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogMoon.htm), and learn more about the Luna program on Robert Christy's Zarya site. (http://www.zarya.info/Diaries/Luna/Luna.php)
Sources: NASA/NSSDC (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/masterCatalog.do?sc=1966-006A), LPI (http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/missions/luna/), Robert Christy/Zarya (http://www.zarya.info/Diaries/Luna/Luna09.php)
*Or is it 7.14N/60.36W? Even today it's still not precisely known where Luna 9 landed, but*researchers at Arizona State University are*actively searching through Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (http://lroc.sese.asu.edu) pictures in an attempt to spot*the "lost"*spacecraft and/or evidence of its historic landing. Read more about that here. (http://www.airspacemag.com/space/search-luna-9-180956252/?no-ist)

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