MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Exactly 50 years ago today, US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon.
The era of lunar exploration with the use of space technology began on 2 January, 1959, when the Soviet Union launched the Luna-1 automatic interplanetary station, the first spacecraft sent toward the Moon.
Getting close to the Moon on 4 January, the station passed within 6,000 kilometres (3,728 miles) from it and became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the Sun.
The data on the radiation environment and the gas components of interplanetary matter in the near-Moon space was obtained with the help of the Luna-1 scientific equipment. The Luna-1 was also used to determine the absence of a significant magnetic field near the Moon and the radiation belts around it.
The next spacecraft, Luna-2, was launched on September 12, 1959. After successfully completing its research, it intentionally crashed into the Moon on 14 September, 1959 at a speed of 3.3 kilometres (2 miles) per second. It became the first space flight, carried out from the Earth to another celestial object. Studies conducted by the Luna-2 confirmed the data that the Moon does not have a noticeable magnetic field, that there are no radiation belts around it.
On 4 October, 1959, the Luna-3 automatic interplanetary station was launched. It flew around the Moon and photographed its far side. Pictures, taken at a distance of 60,000-70,000 kilometres from the lunar surface and transmitted via radio to Earth, provided the first idea about this side of the Moon.
The Moon exploration was subsequently continued with the help of the Soviet automatic stations of the Zond and Luna series, as well as US stations of the Pioneer and Ranger series. The obtained scientific information allowed Soviet scientists to make the first complete map and the first globe of the Moon.
A new stage of the Moon study began on 3 February, 1966, when the Luna-9 station, launched on 31 January, made the first soft landing on the surface of the Moon in the Ocean of Storms area. It became the first soft landing mission on the Moon and the first spacecraft on the surface of another celestial body, with which radio communications sessions were conducted.
The Luna-9 transmitted to Earth the world’s first circular photo-panorama of the lunar surface in the landing area of the station, and also made measurements of the intensity of radiation. It spent 75 hours on the lunar surface.
The studies were continued by the Luna-13 automatic station, which was launched on 21 December, 1966. It made a soft landing on December 24 near the western edge of the Ocean of Storms, some 400 kilometres from the landing site of the Luna-9 station.
Studies of physical and mechanical properties of the lunar soil were conducted with the help of the Luna-13 equipment. In addition, the heat flow and corpuscular radiation near the lunar surface were measured. Eight photo and television communication sessions were conducted with the Luna-13 in three days. It also transmitted three panoramas of the lunar surface.
The Luna-10 station was launched on 31 March, 1966. On 3 April, it entered orbit around the Moon and became its first artificial satellite. Studies of the Moon and near-Moon space were conducted with the help of its equipment. Data on general chemical status of the Moon were obtained for the first time.
Communication with the station was maintained until 30 May. During the 56 days of its active existence, the Luna-10 went 460 times around the Moon and made 219 radio communication sessions.
Studies of the Moon were continued by the Soviet stations of the Luna series, bearing numbers of 11, 12, 14, and 15. They made it possible to obtain detailed images of large areas of the Moon sides to determine the anomalies of its gravitational field and to study the meteoroid and radiation environment around it.
From 1966 to 1968, the United States put five Lunar Orbiter stations and one Explorer station into orbit around the Moon. At the same time, sending seven Surveyor spacecraft to land on the Moon.
The last three spacecraft of this series — Surveyor 5, 6, and 7 — had a device for determining the content of a number of chemical elements in the soil substance of the Moon’s surface. This was the beginning of the chemical composition’s measurement of the lunar soil directly on the Moon surface.
Soviet automatic stations Zond-5 (September 1968) and Zond-6 (November 1968) had successfully returned scientific laboratories from space to Earth. These devices circled the Moon and returned safely to Earth, completing all the planned scientific experiments.
Human spaceflights under the US Apollo programme played an important role in the study of the Moon. The US Apollo 8 spacecraft with three astronauts aboard was launched on 21 December, 1968. It flew 10 times around the Moon and successfully returned to Earth.
The crew of the Apollo 10 spacecraft, which lifted off in May 1969 and also circled over the Moon, worked out operations related to ensuring the landing on the Moon and the return of astronauts back to Earth.
Launched on 16 July, 1969, from Cape Kennedy, a manned module of the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the Moon with two US astronauts on July 20. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin became the second one. Astronauts took photographs of the lunar surface and collected lunar samples. They returned to Earth on July 24.