January 31 – Launch of Luna 9 (1966)

Luna 9, launched today in 1966, was the first spacecraft to soft land (in other words, survive landing) on the Moon.

Replica of Luna 9

Launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan, a three day journey ended with the use of a “landing bag” to soften the bouncing during the 14 mph impact.

Artist’s impression of Luna 9 on the surface of the Moon

On landing, the four petals visible in the photograph opened up to increase surface stability, and Luna 9 started to take pictures and monitor radiation. Signals from the lander were picked up by the Jodrell Bank radio telescope facility in Cheshire. Opinions divided on whether this was a deliberate act by the USSR to make sure the West knew what they had achieved. Contact with the craft ceased on February 6th.

Twenty-four spacecraft managed to get the name “Luna”. Plenty more were launched, but only those that managed to get as far as the Moon could join the club. It didn’t matter if you crashed into it or sailed straight past, making the distance was enough.

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