February 03 – Luna 9 lands on the Moon

Feb 3rd is a big day in spaceflight history, because on this day in 1966, the Soviet Union successfully soft-landed  Luna 9 onto the Moon, beating the USA by just over 4 months, and no doubt causing wide grins and double vodkas all round in Moscow.

Luna 9 was launched from the world’s oldest space centre at Tyuratum in Khazakstan.  The centre is still being used by the Russians, although today they have to lease it from the Khazak government (how are the mighty fallen).

Luna 9
Luna 9

The flight to the moon took 79 hours, after which the main spacecraft ejected a small (2 foot diameter) capsule weighing 220 lb (100 kg) which, thanks to the ingenious use of retro rockets, airbags, outrigger engines and a 16 foot long probe which told the engines to cut out when it touched the surface, hit the Moon at a sedate 14 mph, and only needed to bounce a few times before righting itself (it was weighted in such a way as to come to rest the right way up).  The four “petals” covering the top half of the craft then opened up and became stabilizing legs (as in the photo of the still futuristic-looking-after-all-these-years Luna 9, above).   Landing occurred in the Oceanus Procellarum at 9.45 PM Moscow time.

Three panaoramic photographs were transmitted back to Earth over a three day period.   They were picked up by Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, and decoded thanks to a receiver provided by the Daily Express newspaper (see below).

Photograph of the Moon from Luna 9
Photograph of the Moon from Luna 9

2008   ⇒   On this day in 2008 the extrasolar planet Corot-3b was discovered in the constellation of Aquilla by the French-led COnvection ROtation et Transits planétairesmission using the transit method.

1921   ⇒   Happy birthday Ralph Asher Apher, cosmologist, born today in Washington DC.  A big name in the world of big bang nucleosynthesis, which sounds like heavy stuff, and is, as it describes how heavier elements would be created in the primordial universe).


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