Found: Soviet moon rover

Above is Lunokhod 1, a Soviet robotic rover that landed on the moon in 1970 and eventually died, leaving its final resting place unknown. That is, until a few months ago when UC San Diego astrophysicist Tom Murphy fired off laser pulses at the moon and detected the photons reflected back in the ultrasensitive telescope at the Apache Point Observatory. It turns out that Murphy had found Lunokhod 1. Now, he's planning to use it to precisely measure lunar motion and test theories of gravity. From IEEE Spectrum:
Murphy suspected that (Apache Point Observatory's) superior capability might allow him to find the long-lost rover, and he decided to devote just a small percentage of telescope time to test this whim. At first, his attempts to locate the rover were fruitless. Because of atmospheric divergence, the laser pulse forms a beam footprint on the moon of 2 km. He later found out that he was working with coordinates 4.5 km off target. Then, in March, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter beamed back photographs of the Russian lunar landers Luna 17 and 21. "It was really fantastic imaging," Murphy says. "You could even see the rovers' tracks. You could trace out where they went and what their journey looked like."
"Forgotten Soviet Moon Rover Beams Light Back to Earth"



  1. What I wonder is, how come Soviet space stuff always looks like props out of 1930s science fiction films? It’s like the Americans are going “It’s engineering, so it looks like engineering” while the Russians are going “Fuck that shit, it’s gonna look like the movies!

    1. What I wonder is, how come Soviet space stuff always looks like props out of 1930s science fiction films?

      I would imagine budget constraints. This is what Sojourner would look like if you had to build him in your kitchen.

    2. “What I wonder is, how come Soviet space stuff always looks like props out of 1930s science fiction films?”

      Well this one looks more like 1960s/50s sci-fi (none of the smooth bulbs) in which case it’s the other way round and most sci-fi films were imitating design specks from the leaders of the industry.

    3. Many (if not all) Soviet probes had their electronics and instruments sealed inside a pressurized vessel – hence the bulky apperance. I guess they weren’t confident about their reliability in vacuum.

  2. Dang. The thing really does look like a bathtub.

    Interesting. At far left center is what appears to be a high-tech box-of-chocolates with a snap-open lid.


  3. We all know that the Soviet rovers were actually filmed at Pinewood Studios using the effects crew from “Thunderbirds”, with Derek Meddings leading the team. Quite inmpressive work, really…

  4. Yay! Lunokhod! I had that exact picture in one of my many space books I had as a kid. I always thought it was real awesome-looking. So sci-fi. Much cooler, somehow, than the stuff NASA sent up there :)

  5. Yeah, its hilarious! All they did was build two robots for remote lunar exploration in the sixties! Its not like its a masterpiece of engineering that was decades ahead of its time or anything.

    Stoopid Soviets.

    1. To be honest, the Soviets did one even better. They designed a later lander for sample return; certainly cheaper than landing a cosmonaut; they actually accomplished three in the early 1970’s, about the same time our Apollo program was winding down. The descent stage was virtually identical to the ones used for the rovers.
      While the Apollo missions were chock full of “gee whiz” cloaked with a healthy dose of patriotism, the Soviet approach was far more pragmatic and perhaps even more honest in its scientific goals.
      Derek Meddings’ jokes aside.

      1. If I recall correctly, the US didn’t manage to get a robotic rover off the planet until Sojourner in the late 90’s? And that looked a lot like this.

        1. Yup, and at Sojourner’s heart was a Tandy Model 100. Well, actually, its mother board was based on the same 8-bit chip that the Tandy Model 100 used. It was also teensy tiny compared to that beast.

  6. The retroreflector on the Soviet rover is very similar to a land surveyor’s reflector prism that reflects the infrared light pulses from a total station to measure distance. So, the scientific principle is actually pretty ordinary. Whereas a surveyor’s instruments can measure several miles in one shot, the LRO team used this method to measure the distance to the moon. Astounding.

  7. After reading Victor Pelevin’s “Omon Ra,” looking at this picture gives my legs sympathy cramps.

  8. in soviet russia, rover moons you, lol. i literally fell off the sofa when i read that. best comment ever.

  9. Looks like the soviets were playing robot wars on the moon long before us “lol”

    Behemoth vs Lunokhod

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