Luna 1

Although it missed the moon, Russia's Luna 1 was the first man-made object to escape the grip of Earth's gravity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Launch Date January 2, 1959 | 16:41:21 UT
Launch Site Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Russia | Launch Site 1
Destination Earth's Moon
Type Impact
Status Partial Success
Nation Soviet Union
Alternate Names Cosmic Rocket

Goals

Luna 1, like three prior spacecraft in the Soviet Union's Ye-1 series, was intended to impact the Moon. The spacecraft carried instruments to study interplanetary matter, cosmic radiation and the magnetic fields of the Moon and Earth.

Accomplishments

The spacecraft was the first to escape Earth's gravity, but the guidance system malfunctioned, causing it to miss the Moon. About 34 hours after launch, the spacecraft flew past the Moon at a distance of 3,976 miles (6,400 kilometers), and ground controllers lost contact with the spacecraft 62 hours after launch.

Key Dates

Jan. 2, 1959 | 16:41:21 UT: Launch

Jan. 3, 1959 | 00:00:57 UT: Lunar flyby

In Depth

Along with its launch vehicle, the Luna 1 probe was originally referred to in the Soviet Press as Cosmic Rocket. The probe was retroactively renamed Luna 1 in 1963.

This Soviet spacecraft was the first human-made object to reach escape velocity (the speed and direction required to travel beyond Earth’s gravity). At 00:57 UT on Jan. 3, 1959, the attached upper stage of the rocket released one kilogram of sodium at about 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) from Earth and was photographed by astronomers on Earth. The sodium gas was an experiment to study the behavior of gas in space.

But Luna 1 did not follow its planned trajectory due to a problem in the guidance system. As a result, the probe failed to collide with its main target, the Moon. Luna 1 instead passed about 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) from the lunar surface about 34 hours after launch.

Ground controllers lost contact with Cosmic Rocket approximately 62 hours after launch, and the probe became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the Sun.

Spacecraft

Launch Vehicle: 8K72 (no. B1-6)

Spacecraft Mass: 797 pounds (361.3 kg) with upper stage

Spacecraft Instruments

  1. three-component magnetometer
  2. two gas-discharge counters
  3. piezoelectric detector
  4. scintillation counter
  5. ion traps

Additional Resources

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Luna 1

Selected References

Siddiqi, Asif A. Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, NASA, 2002.​

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