Luna 9 makes first lunar soft landing, February 3, 1966

-February 03, 2018

After a few crash landings on the moon, the Soviet Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to make a controlled, rocket-assisted soft landing on the moon in 1966.

Three years before Apollo 11 brought the first men to the moon, the unmanned Luna 9 reached the surface in three days after launching from Balkonur Cosmodrome in the Republic of Kazakhstan on January 31. It was the first to transmit photos from the surface of the moon, four months before the US Surveyor 1 did the same.

The mission also proved the lunar surface could support the weight of a lander.

The spacecraft consisted of a spherical scientific container that was a hermetically sealed container holding the radio, programming device, batteries, thermal control system, and scientific apparatus, which was mounted on a flight stage which held the main KTDU-5A retrorocket, outrigger vernier rockets, a fuel tank, an oxidizer tank, and guidance and landing sensor equipment.

The container was designed to separate from the flight stage just before touchdown and had antennas designed to open after landing, an airbag system, an SBM-10 radiation detector, a panoramic television camera, and a mirror on an 8 cm turret was mounted above the camera to allow 360 degree coverage.

About a minute before landing, commands were sent to inflate airbags and begin retrorocket firing, then engines were used to slow the spacecraft  for landing.

At 16 feet from the surface a contact sensor touched the ground, the engines were shut down, and the container was ejected, impacting the surface and bouncing several times before coming to rest in Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms). Four petals, forming the top shell of the spacecraft, opened outward and stabilized the spacecraft on the lunar surface.

The first image of the surface was taken 15 minutes later but difficult to see because the sun was barely above the horizon. The next day the Luna 9 probe took the first full panorama.

The lunar surface close-up from the Luna 9 lander. Source: NASA

The mission ended when the batteries ran out on February 6.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on February 3, 2014 and edited on February 3, 2018.

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