First Generation Lunas
By Charles S. Sheldon II[1917-1981], was Chief of the Science Policy Research Division of the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service
1. Luna 1
At the close of 1958, Soviet authorities announced that the New Year would bring the first Soviet flights to the Moon. On January 2, 1959 , Luna 1 was launched on a fast flight toward the Moon, carrying a payload weight of 361.3 kilograms, plus a separated final stage carrier rocket with a weight of 1,111 kilograms, for a total weight of 1,472 kilograms, The payload had a minimum collection of geophysical instrumentation in a spherical container, and projecting antennas. Because of the high velocity and its announced package of various metallic emblems with the Soviet coat of arms, it is reasonable to conclude that it was intended to strike the Moon. It missed its target, and flew by the Moon at a distance of 5 to 6 thousand kilometers at nearest approach, had its orbit bent by lunar gravity and flew off to become the first artificial planetoid of the Sun. Its batteries gave out very soon after, on January 5, at 600 thousand kilometers from Earth. Yuriy Gagarin acknowledged its strike mission, in which it failed. (7)
The United States also was undertaking a lunar program in this same general period. The first three Pioneer flights in late 1958 were intended to orbit the Moon. The first was destroyed at the Cape during launch. The next two Pioneer flights developed insufficient velocity to reach the Moon, and fell back to Earth. The next two Pioneer flights used different hardware and were intended to make close passes by the Moon. The first fell back to Earth because of insufficient velocity. The second (called Pioneer 4), launched March 3, 1959 , flew by the Moon at a distance of 60,000 kilometers. This 6 kilogram payload was battery-powered, and signals ceased at about 654,250 kilometers from Earth.
2. Luna 2
On September 12, 1959 , a Soviet attempt to hit the Moon was launched again, and this time was successful in striking about 435 kilometers from the visible center of the Moon the following day.
3. Luna 3
A much more complex operation was launched on October 4, 1959 . This payload, referred to as an Automatic Interplanetary Station, flew past the Moon at about 7 thousand kilometers, and then while in optical view of a good part of the never-before-seen far side of the Moon, it was stabilized, took a series of photographs which were developed on board, and the information was scanned to be radio-transmitted back to Earth in facsimile form. Because the payload was equipped with solar cells, it had a much longer active life than its two Luna predecessors. Its so-called barycentric orbit brought it sweeping back toward Earth. The pictures were returned on October 18, and were to have been transmitted at another point much closer to Earth, but the second transmission was not accomplished. Typical of barycentric orbits which are influenced in a complex way by the tug of both Earth and Moon gravity, the flight path kept changing, and apparently after 198 days in eccentric orbit, the payload, long since radio-silent, reentered the Earth's atmosphere to burn. Its pictures were very indistinct, but through computer enhancement permitted the Russians to develop a tentative atlas of the far side of the Moon. Those individuals who charged this, too, was a Soviet forgery were proven wrong when some of the same features eventually were found in the later and far superior pictures taken by American Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. Lunar Orbiter 4 of August 1967 found the Tsiolokovskiy crater named in the Luna 3 pictures.
1. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS, 1971-75, OVERVIEW, FACILITIES AND HARDWARE MANNED AND UNMANNED FLIGHT PROGRAMS, BIOASTRONAUTICS CIVIL AND MILITARY APPLICATIONS PROJECTIONS OF FUTURE PLANS, STAFF REPORT , THE COMMITTEE ON AERONAUTICAL AND SPACE .SCIENCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, BY THE SCIENCE POLICY RESEARCH DIVISION CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, VOLUME – I, AUGUST 30, 1976, GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON : 1976,
7. Reuters, Moscow , July 29, 1961 , quoting his letter to the magazine. Soviet Lithuania .
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