"Communists blaze the trail to the stars" A stamp set from 1964 commemorating the Soviet Union’s space firsts: first satellite (Sputnik-1957), first pennant on the moon (Luna 2 carried two to the moon-1959), first picture of the dark side of the moon (Luna 3-1959), first man in space (Yuri Gagarin-1961), first group flight (Vostok 3 and 4-1962) and first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova-1963).
Even rightly so, too often the Apollo program dominates the narrative of early lunar exploration. The Soviet Union ran its own lunar program in the 1960s and ’70s, and it was so successful early on that it looked like the Moon would be Soviet territory.
The first ever man-made object to land on its surface in 1959 was the Soviet-launched Luna 2. The first image of the lunar far side came during a flyby by Luna 3 the same year. In 1966, Luna 9 transmitted the first pictures from the surface of the Moon, and Luna 10 would enter into its orbit. In 1968, a handful of turtles and other simple organisms even made the first circumlunar voyage aboard Zond 5.But Apollo 8 swept the rug out from the Soviet’s feet; three astronauts going into orbit in December of that year all but assured the world that the political victory of landing on the Moon would go to the Americans.
Luna 3 took these images on 7 October 1959, the very first views of the far side of the moon. It took 29 pictures for 40 minutes. The film was developed, dried, then scanned by a cathode ray television system inside the probe itself. Images were eventually received on earth two weeks later, 17 of the 29 actually useable. Earlier attempts were made but the probe was too far away and the images noisy.
A series of posters by justinvg which depict Russian ‘victories’ during the early space race.
- Sputnik 1 (1957) - The announcement by the USSR that they had put this tiny metal ball into orbit was the cause of major concern for the US, sparking the space race.
- Luna Programme (1959-76) - Shortly after sending Sputnik 1 and 2 into Earth’s orbit, the Soviets set their sights even further, and successfully sent 15 probes to the Moon over a period of 17 years.
- Vostok 1 (1961) - The USSR became the first nation to send a person into space when Yuri Gagarin spent 81 minutes orbiting the Earth.
- Voskhod 1 (1965) - This mission saw another milestone set by the Soviets when Alexei Leonov became the first person to perform extra-vehicular activity.
Luna 16 (Ye-8-5 series) was an unmanned space mission, part of the Soviet Luna program.
Luna 16 was the first robotic probe to land on the Moon and return a sample of lunar soil to Earth. It represented the first lunar sample return mission by the Soviet Union, and was the third lunar sample return mission overall, following the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions.