Soviet medallions scattered on Moon in 1959

Artist Randy Regier visited the Cosmosphere Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas. He snapped a photo of this Russian sphere, a duplicate of the one the Russians sent to the Moon in 1959. Here's the description:

A Cosmic Calling Card

Luna II becomes the first man-made object to impact the lunar surface, and the first to reach a cosmic body other than the Earth.

In a move that was sheer propaganda, the Soviets placed a stainless steel sphere (identical to the one displayed here) aboard the Luna II spacecraft. The sphere was covered with medallions stamped with the emblem of the Soviet Union and the year 1959. When Luna II impacted the Moon, the sphere was ejected, scattering the medallions across the lunar surface. It was the Soviet version of a calling card, announcing to all who followed that the Soviet Union had been the first to the moon.

This is the first time I've heard about this.


        1.  What it reminded me of is the numerous instances where travelers in past centuries carved their initials into ancient trees and  petroglyphs to prove they were at the site.
          Littering is of course a human perception so each person defines this in a different way.

      1.  Building a rocket that can achieve escape velocity with a payload and successfully aiming it at the moon is like peeing? And the USSR isn’t even here to defend herself.

  1. This is the first time I’ve heard about this.

    Me too. Seems kinda dickish, but in an almost classy sort of way. It’s almost like they, too, were burdened with their own analogue of New Jersey.

      1. I agree; it’s shameful how much crap we’ve left up there, although I would presume that all the non-symbolic stuff was left behind for reasons of weight.

        But really, a fragmentation grenade of shiny steel medallions? I don’t know how big and heavy that was, but you know it had to have added significantly to the mission’s cost and risk. And for all that, they couldn’t be bothered to convey any more of a message than the average subway tagger.

  2. First to crash into and scatter wreckage across the moon.  Will future space faring species or interstellar visitors be impressed? Are we impressed by our achievements in powered flight when visiting the site of a plane crash?

  3. Kind of reminds me of how the Nazis littered part of Antarctica (or Neuschwabenland as they called it) with little cones by air to mark it as their own in 1938.

    1. Or the Line of Demarcation, the Louisiana Purchase, most of the border lines in Africa.  If you go back far enough all the property rights are essentially arbitrary claims to huge tracts of land that usually had people already living on it.

      I remember about a year ago the Russians put an underwater flag on the  continental shelf to lay claim to some sort of underwater resources that were out of their territorial waters or something.

      I don’t know.  It’s all kind of silly, the human urge to claim everything before we have a use for it.

  4. Don’t see much that’s negative here, particularly in light of the large amount of useless non-symbolic junk the US left up there: this was just a version of planting a flag.

    1. I think most of the significance of the act was the fact that a man planted it and returned home alive.

      1. Kind of like all those European’s who planted flags in the New World, or atop remote mountains, then returned alive? Only this time we weren’t stepping all over the native population in the process – merely because there wasn’t one to to trod underfoot.

        Everest is a mountain littered with frozen corpses, a testament to mankind’s hubris. We paint it in a romantic light, but it is a barren spit of rock and ice, worthless except for inflating egos and spreading propaganda. The moon is much the same.

        A dozen men went to the moon. We’ve never been back, because there is no value in it. The novelty wore off, the propaganda ceased to be effective. Russian medallions, American astronauts, what does it matter to the moon or to mankind? It’s all just rubbish now.

        1. Are we really that jaded now that the moon landing seems unimpressive?  I mean, the moon.  People walked on that shit.

          (edit)I should say that I think the Soviet accomplishments were equally impressive. The space race was sort of a welcome diversion from the more bloody aspects of the cold war.

        2. Remember: we’re all still benefiting from the multitude of scientific and engineering improvements that came from the space race.

        1. Only while posting about this last night, did I bump into a new Google result, a documentary on YouTube called “Space Hackers”. 

          Please do yourself a favor and look it up, it’s the story of the Judica-Cordiglia brothers as told in their own, now-elderly words, it’s very cohesive and I gained a lot of respect for these men.

          The J-C brothers actually became well-known and respected in Europe back in the days of the space race, and they did embarrass the Kremlin a bit, to the point that Radio Moscow saw it fit to broadcast a denial piece, calling the J-C brothers “space gangsters”, lol.

          In fact, the J-C brothers did the Italian live radio coverage of the Apollo 11 mission, and they were following the landing with their own equipment.  Yeah, these guys were legit, and big time geeks.

          1. I’ve already read plenty about the JCs and the whole “lost cosmonauts” bollocks. The fact stands – it’s been twenty years since the fall of the Soviet Union. If there was anything to it, it would have been out a long time ago. Moreover, during the Cold War – do you think if there had been anything to this at all the CIA wouldn’t have been all over it?

            Occam’s Razor points at general Western butthurtery over the Soviet Union’s early achievements in space, as simple as that.

  5. We’ve dumped 170,000+ kg of assorted crap on the Moon over the years. There’s also the Fallen Astronaut memorial left by Apollo 15, a vaguely Klaatu-looking chunk of aluminum face planted in the dust next to a list of deceased astronauts. No cosmonauts need apply.

    1.  re: “No cosmonauts need apply.”

      That’s because we lost no cosmonauts, comrade. Anyone saying differently is simply spreading imperialist lies.

    2.  As per Wikipedia:
      “Fallen Astronaut was placed on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 15, along with a plaque bearing the names of eight American astronauts and six Soviet cosmonauts who had died.”

  6. yeah, it’s great that they make a virtue of the crash landing by saying the medallions were scattered across the surface. The ‘medallions’ are sheet metal thin and designed to look like more than they are by wrapping them into a sphere.

    as if someday in the future we’ll happen upon one on a walk on the moon and think, “how cool!”

    1.  I’m pretty sure if I were walking on the moon and came across one, that would be my exact thought…

  7. good grief, you bunch of ‘this is littering’ killjoys, it’s a soccer ball’s worth of medallions deployed over a area of an entire planetoid consisting of empty space.  classy move, soviets, and thanks for the story.

  8. when we can finally go to the moon as tourists, i have dibs on the central medallion like the one in the photo.

  9. People have negative reactions to this? Really?

    Get back to us after you have REACHED THE MOON you morons!!

  10. I’m most curious about the geometry here! That looks like a tiling of the sphere by 48 (?) regular pentagons, and I never heard of such a thing. Usually these quasi-spherical tilings involve some number of hexagons plus 12 pentagons (like in the traditional soccer ball arrangement where each pentagon is surrounded by 5 hexagons)–known as C_60 buckyballs. But this, with pentagons – what the heck *is* it?

    1. Not all of them are regular, or the same, so I don’t think there’s a name. The easiest way to think of it is a dodecahedron, where every face has a small regular pentagon in the middle. The rest of the face is then divided into six irregular pentagons.

      I think leaving markers for possible historians when you do something significant is definitely classy. It’s partly just leaving your initials on a tree, but it’s also taking a view beyond the present moment. And yes, it doesn’t seem likely any historians will appreciate it any time soon, but it’s way more likely than anyone ever minding the litter.

      1. I get 72 faces. Also, a rhombicosidodecahedron means the specific
        combination with squares (rhomb-), 20 triangles (icosi-), and 12
        pentagons (dodeca-).  This is very close to the related deltoidal hexecontahedron, but you still have to add the 12 middle plates.

        1. it can be seen as a dodecahedron (ie, 12 pentagons), where each pentagon contains 6 component pentagons: 6*12 = 72

          1.  If we just count them, there seems to be 8 grouping of 6 medallions: the classic soviethedron. If those Russians were drunk enough to exacerbate their sense of humour, but what are the chances, this was a matryoshka.

  11. It looks to me to have 42 pieces. Someone could fund a manned moon mission by telling the world’s billionaires that they can have a medallion for $100 million, payable in advance. $42 billion seems enough to send some men and woman to the moon. Then they could go there, collect the medallions, and give the souvenirs to the billionaires.

  12. A bit of useless space trivia for anyone who doesn’t happen to read Russian:  the inscription says “USSR,” obviously, and below that I believe it says “January” and “1959.”  That probably means that these were made to go on the “Luna 1″ which was launched on January 2, 1959, but which missed the moon by 5900 km.  Likely having made some extras, or at least having the molds on hand to fabricate more, the Soviets then *apparently* loaded them onto the “Luna 2″ which was launched later that year and became the first spacecraft to hit the moon–in September, not January.

    1.  according to that page:

      “Luna-2 and its pennants were actually probably vaporized. They struck the Moon at a relative velocity of 3.3 kilometers per second. Assuming kinetic energy is converted to heat, and given the specific heat of steel, the resulting temperature obtained is 11000° K.”

  13. Want ball! I really like this, cool idea.

    As for the people complaining about “littering” the moon, if you pay for the return flight, I’d be happy to go up there with some bin-bags.

    1. I will join you. F*** all the naysayers. The value lies in the mere accomplishment of a difficult task. USA didn’t just land a guy on the moon and bring him home; they did it with slide rules. F***ing slide rules! That goes for Everest, too – that thing is a challenge even with today’s technology. You don’t get there AND BACK without some hard work. Many made it to the top… not so many the return.

  14. I hear if you reunite all the medallions at the Kremlin it will summon the ghost of Lenin.

    Also: Space Balls!

    1. I always thought you’d end up summoning Kruschev personally. Seeing as Space was his prestige project for the country.

  15. «Sheer propaganda»? Why is everything the Soviet Union did apart from clerical work automatically «propaganda»… They plantet medallions, the US planted a flag, fair play to them seeing as how they got to the freakin’ moon.

  16. I’m trying to visualize it…    Shouldn’t the printing be backward in order to get a legible print in the moon dust?

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