Whatever happened to Russia's Moon lander?

The United State won the race to put a man on the Moon. But we weren't the first to land anything on the Moon. That prize went to the Soviet Union, which successfully put Luna 2 on the surface of the Moon in 1959.

Their later missions were less successful and the USSR never made it past unmanned moon landers. Even some of those failed. Last week, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the remains of two of these Luna missions, still sitting on the Moon. At Vice, Amy Teitel talks about the Luna program and what NASA has learned about why it failed.

Luna 23 met a similar fate. Launched on October 28, 1974, it malfunctioned halfway through its mission and ended up crashing on the surface in the Mare Crisium (the Sea of Crisis in the northwest on the Earth-facing side). The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth after its hard landing, but it couldn’t get a sample. Mission scientists expected the spacecraft had tipped over as a result of its landing, but without a way to image the moon at a high resolution, they weren’t able to confirm, and the mystery endured.

It turns out they were indeed right. The whole spacecraft is still on the surface, its ascent engine never fired, and high resolution image from LRO’s cameras show the spacecraft lying on its side.

Read the rest at Vice



  1. That’s awesome that we can now take pics of stuff like this. I’ve already seen their series of moon landing sites.

  2. Future astronauts take note: if you are ever stranded on Earth’s moon, there is Soviet a lander with a (presumably) full fuel tank in the Sea of Crisis.

  3. Did the Sea of Crisis get named after this incident? If no, I think the real problem was the Soviets’ lack of ironic sense.

    1. Soviet-era QA couldn’t produce electronics in quantity that would operate reliably in open vacuum, so the main systems were enclosed in nitrogen pressure vessels.

  4. Did the Luna landers have computers on-board, or were signals received from Earth that triggered discrete mechanical operations (such as taking a sediment sample)?

  5. If by “land on the Moon” you mean “smack it in the face with a big ol’ cannonball” then yeah, Luna 2 did that.

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