Above: Artist rendering of the Luna 2 spacecraft shortly before impacting the Moon’s surface. Credit: Nick Stevens.
September 13 marks a historic day in space travel when the Soviet ‘Luna 2’ spacecraft became the first man-made object to reach the lunar surface. Fifty-five years ago, the craft landed – crash-landed actually – on the Moon near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus. It’s mission? To confirm the discovery of solar wind turned up by its predecessor, Luna 1.
Luna 2 shared the spherical design of its earlier relative, with protruding antennas and instruments like scintillation counters, Geiger counters, micrometeorite detectors, and a magnetometer. The ball-shaped craft communicated with Earth via three radio transmitters tuned to different frequencies, and carried two Soviet pennants engraved with the USSR Coat of Arms and Cyrillic letters ‘CCCP’. A copy of the pennants was gifted to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower by USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev just days after Luna 2’s successful lunar impact.
The pioneer spacecraft initiated a new era of space exploration by making contact with an extraterrestrial body, and paved the way to further analysis and exploration of the lunar surface. Luna 2 also confirmed that there is virtually no magnetic field or radiation belt surrounding the Moon.