Space Race - Soft Landing On the Moon (1966-1967)

In the 1960's the Soviet Union proceeded with a program to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon. However, their Lunas 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 either missed the moon entirely or were destroyed by impact on its surface. Finally on 3 February 1966, they successfully soft-landed Luna 9 on the moon.

Launched on 31 Jan 1966, Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to make a controlled landing onto the surface of another celestial body on 3 February 1966.

Luna 9 televised and transmitted across 250,000 miles (400,000 km) of space to earth, photographs of the surface, giving man a close-up look at its structure. Objects only a few inches in size showed up. It also conducted experiment to demonstrate that the bearing strength of the lunar ground was sufficient to hold a large spacecraft, and not destined to sink into layers of dust, as some astronomers had predicted. The communication with Luna 9 ended on 5 February 1966.

The United States succeeded next in making a soft landing on the moon. After 63 hours of flight launched by an Atlas-Centaur carrier, Surveyor 1 landed on 2 June 1966 in Oceanus Procellarum.

Launched on 30 May 1966, Surveyor 1 was the first spacecraft from the United States to perform a controlled landing on the surface of the moon. Once on the surface, Surveyor 1 took over 11,100 high-resolution, close-up photographs of the lunar landscape during three lunar day-night cycles (or about six earth weeks), where temperatures soared as high as 250 degree Farenheit (120 degree celcius) during the day and plunged to -260 degree Farenheit (-160 degree celcius). Particles as small as 1/50th of an inch (0.05 cm) in diameter could be detected.

A total of seven spacecrafts were launched from the Surveyor program, including two failed attempts namely Surveyor 2 and 4.

Just before Surveyor 2 touchdown moon on 22 September 1966, one of its thrusters malfunctioned during a mid course correction, causing it tumbled out of control and crashed into the moon, southeast of the crater Copernicus.

A few minutes before Surveyor 4, launched on 14 July 1967, was to touch down on the moon in Sinus Medii, all communications were lost.