Russia’s Zond 5 – carrying an extensive biological payload including two steppe tortoises – was the first successful circumlunar mission. It carried its biological payload around the moon and returned to Earth. The tortoises survived landing in the Indian Ocean and were returned to Moscow.

Source: S.P.Korolev RSC Energia

Published: 30 May 2008

Launch Date Sep. 16, 1968
Launch Site Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Russia |
Launch Site 81L
Destination Earth’s Moon
Type Flyby (Circumlunar)
Status Successful
Nation Soviet Union
Alternate Names 1968-076A, 03394


Fly around the Moon and return to Earth, taking photographs and testing the effect of space travel on a group of passengers consisting of two steppe tortoises, some wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria, and other living things.


Following three failed attempts, Zond 5 was the Soviet Union's first successful flight around the Moon and back to Earth, during which it took high-resolution pictures of Earth and the Moon. It was announced that the onboard tortoises lost about 10% of their body weight but remained active and showed no loss of appetite. Radiation was measured on a life-size mannequin that rode in the pilot's seat.

Key Dates

Sep. 16, 1968: Launch
Sep. 21, 1968: Safe Return to Earth

In Depth

Zond 5 was the first Soviet spacecraft to complete a successful circumlunar mission-after three failures.

During the flight to the Moon, the main stellar attitude-control sensor failed due to contamination of the sensor's optical surface. Controllers used less accurate backup sensors to perform two midcourse corrections. The spacecraft successfully circled around the far side of the Moon at a range of 1,950 kilometers on 18 September, taking high-resolution photos of the Moon and Earth.

On the return leg of the flight, a second attitude-control sensor failed and the spacecraft's three-axis stabilization platform switched off the guided reentry system. As a result, Zond 5 performed a direct ballistic reentry (instead of a guided one) and splashed down safely in the backup target area in the Indian Ocean at 32.63 degrees south latitude and 65.55 degrees east longitude, about 105 kilometers from the nearest Soviet tracking ship. Landing time was 16:08 UT on 21 September.


Launch Vehicle: 8K82K + Blok D upper stage (Proton-K no. 234-01 / Blok D no. 17)

Spacecraft Mass: about 5,375 kg

Spacecraft Instruments:

  1. biological payload
  2. radiation detectors
  3. imaging system

Additional Resources

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Zond 5

National Space Science Data Center Soviet Lunar Missions

Selected References

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

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