This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

12th Time’s a Charm


January 3, 1966: First Soft Landing On Moon

People of Earth, for the very first time, make a soft landing on the surface of another planetary body. In 1966 the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the moon or any planetary body other than Earth. Luna 9’s landing system was pretty rudimentary, weighing in at 218 pounds it used a landing bag to survive the impact of “car crash” speed, WAM…!

1966 Russian Lunar 9 unmanned lander transmitted panoramic pictures of the

The Luna 9 lands on the moon only 24 years after the first rocket is launched in 1942. The lander was essentially a hermetically sealed container with radio equipment, a program timing device, heat control systems, scientific apparatus, power sources, and a television system.

  • At 5,200 miles from the moon, the spacecraft was oriented for the firing of its retrorockets.
  • At 25 mi above the lunar surface, the radar altimeter triggered the jettison of the side modules, the inflation of the air bags and the firing of the retro rockets.
  • At 820 feet from the surface, the main retrorocket was turned off and the four outrigger engines were used to slow the craft.
  • Approximately 16 feet above the surface, a contact sensor touched the ground triggering the engines to be shut down and the landing capsule to be ejected.
  • The craft landed at approximately 14 mph. The spacecraft bounced several times before coming to rest in Oceanus Procellarum. The successful landing dispelled fears that the surface of the moon would swallow future astronauts in deep drifts of moon dust.


12th Time’s a Charmlina 9

This was the 12th attempt at a soft landing by the Soviets. After its landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, the four petals which covered the top half of the spacecraft opened outward and stabilized it on the lunar surface. Spring-controlled antennae assumed operating positions, and the television camera rotating mirror system, which operated by revolving and tilting, began a photographic survey of the lunar environment.

5 minutes after touchdown Luna 9 began transmitting data to Earth. It was 7 hours before the probe began sending the first of 9 images of the surface of the moon. These were the first images sent from the surface of another planetary body.

First image sent from Luna 9

First image sent from Luna 9

The pictures from Luna 9 were not released immediately by the Soviet authorities. Instead, the Jodrell Bank Observatory in England, which was monitoring the craft, noticed that the signal format used was identical to the internationally-agreed system used by newspapers for transmitting pictures. The Daily Express rushed a suitable receiver to the Observatory and the pictures from Luna 9 were decoded and published worldwide. The BBC News speculated that the spacecraft’s designers deliberately fitted the probe with equipment conforming to the standard, to enable reception of the pictures by Jodrell Bank.

Pictures from Luna 9

Luna-9-pan3Luna-9-pan4moon surface

Last contact with the spacecraft was at 22:55 UT on February 6, 1966.

A replica of Luna 9 on display in the Memorial Museum of Astronautics

A replica of Luna 9 on display in the Memorial Museum of Astronautics


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