Mission Type: Sample Return
Launch Vehicle: Proton Booster plus upper stage and escape stages, 8K82K + Blok D (Proton no. 242-01)
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), USSR, NIIP-5 / launch site 81P
Spacecraft Mass: 5,700 kg
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) stereo imaging system; 2) remote arm for sample collection and 3) radiation detector
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi
National Space Science Data Center, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/
Solar System Log by Andrew Wilson, published 1987 by Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd.
Luna 15, launched only three days before the historic Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, was the second Soviet attempt to recover and bring lunar soil back to Earth. In a race to reach the Moon and return to Earth, the parallel missions of Luna 15 and Apollo 11 were, in some ways, the culmination of the Moon race that defined the space programs of both the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
After a midcourse correction the day after launch, Luna 15 entered lunar orbit at 10:00 UT on 17 July 1969. The spacecraft remained in lunar orbit for four days while controllers checked all onboard systems and performed two orbital maneuvers. After astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin had already set foot on the Moon, Luna 15 fired its main retrorocket engine to initiate descent to the surface at 15:47 UT on 21 July 1969.
Unfortunately, transmissions ceased only 4 minutes after deorbit at a calculated altitude of 3 kilometers. The spacecraft had probably crashed into the side of a mountain. Impact coordinates were 17° north latitude and 60° east longitude in Mare Crisium.