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The Moon - Missions to the Moon

There have been several missions to our Moon - most noted is the Apollo series along with Apollo 11's historic landing and the first man on the Moon - Neil Armstrong.

In addition, you may want to check out AeroSpaceGuide. This site has some interesting facts as well as mission summaries.

A Lunar History is available on the Lunar Prospector website.

Also, a detailed timeline is available.

The Soviet Union:

The first landing - unmanned that is - on the Moon goes to the Russians and its Luna 9 lander. All told, the Soviet Union sent 5 landers to the Moon, all unmanned (between 1965 and 1976).

Additionally, Luna missions from 1972 to 1976 sent several landers on return sample missions:

  • Luna 17 and Luna 21 had robotic rovers
  • Lunokhod 1 and 2 were controlled from Earth

The United States:

The first ever US probe to escape the gravity of Earth was the Pioneer probe. Predecessor to the infamous Pioneer's 10 and 11, the Pioneer 4 probe was sent to orbit the Moon in August of 1958.

The king of all Moon missions is the Apollo Space Program. Unlike the conspiracy theorists, we DID land on the Moon - and walked on the face of it. Any statement against that fact is an insult to the ingenuity of human intelligence - and that is all I will say about that.

Prior to the Apollo missions, the Ranger program (Rangers 7, 8 and 9) were designed to take high resolution images of the Moon. Much of the images we see in texts is the result of these probes.

Additionally, the Explorer program (the first United States satellite in response to Sputnik - with continued missions through to 2009) also visited the Moon:

  • Explorer 35 operated from 1967 to 1973 in orbit about the Moon
  • Explorer 49 orbited the Moon from 1973 to 1977

The Surveyor missions from 1966 to 1968 were used to demonstrate our ability to land on the Moon. These missions would spearhead the Apollo missions.

The Lunar Orbiter missions (1966 to 1967) were designed to generate high resolution maps of the Moon. Interestingly, the orbits of these 5 probes were on average 21 meters above the surface. In some cases, the probe was only about 2 meters above the surface.

A 21 year gap was breached when the United States launched the Clementine probe in 1994. The purpose was to provide a general overview of the Moon. The probe did discover what appeared to be water-ice within the walls of a crater on the Moon's south pole.

The latest US mission to the Moon was the Lunar Prospector. Launched in 1998 and operating until 1999, this mission was designed to carefully examine the spectroscopic makeup of the surface as well as examine closely the water-ice at the south pole.

The Asian Response:

The United States and Soviet Union were not the only countries to eject probes to the Moon. The Hiten-Hagomoro probe was launched in 1993 by the Japanese Space Agency. Its purpose was to test aerobraking methods as well as deliver a small orbiter.

China's Asiasat 3/HGS 1 became a temporary accidental Lunar orbiter. A failed booster forced mission control to use controlled Lunar orbits to save the satellite and place it in a stable Earth orbit - a brilliant maneuver.

Current Missions:

The only current Lunar mission is the European Space Agency's SMART-1 probe. Orbiting the Moon since November of 2004, the probe is designed to look very close to many of the Lunar features - mostly the darker ones.

The Future:

In late 2005, Japan will launch another probe to the Moon. the LUNAR-A probe is designed to closely observe the interior use seismometers.

Another Japanese probe, also slated for late 2005, will join the LUNAR-A. the SELENE probe is designed to study the evolution of the Moon.

NASA has proposed a name for a future Moon mission - the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Polar studies, magnetic field studies and lunar topography are some of the mentioned goals. No dates as to launch or design.

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