Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of the Luna 2 spacecraft. Soviet Russia was at the time ahead of the US in its space endeavours. It had already launched Luna 1 — the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon.

But Luna 2 went one step further, becoming the first craft to physically touch down on the Moon’s surface.

Fast forward a decade later and the first manned mission, Apollo 11, was complete, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first humans to walk and jump across the Earth’s satellite.

Unknown at the time, on the other side of the moon, the Soviets had made the same journey.

In secret, they had launched Luna 15 while NASA prepared Apollo 11.

Soviet Russia was trying to carry out a sample return mission, hoping to analyse and learn more about the Moon.

The power had had the upper hand over virtually every stage of the Cold War Space Race.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first to perform an extravehicular activity (EVA), and Luna 3 was the first spacecraft to fly past the far side of the Moon.

In 1961, when President John F Kennedy announced his dream of putting a man on the Moon, the Soviet Union was spurred into action.

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It almost exploded en route after one of its propellant tanks began to boil in the Sun’s heat, but a midcourse flight correction ensured the probe made the journey safely.

On descent, however, the Moon’s pockmarked surface proved too difficult to land on.

As NASA noted: “Less than six hours after the second correction, Apollo 11 began its descent to the Moon, landing at 8.17pm UT on July 20, 1969.

“The original plan was for Luna 15 to embark on the Moon less than two hours after Apollo 11, but it was not to be.

“Unsure of the terrain below, controllers delayed the landing by another 18 hours.

“During this critical period, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E ‘Buzz’ Aldrin walked on the Moon.”

In the end, the Luna 15 failed its mission.

Just two hours before Apollo 11 left for Earth, Luna 15 descended to the Moon’s surface, but later analysis found that it had likely crashed on descent at a speed of 298mph.


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