December 14, 2019

Astro-Vid Of the Week: The Launch of Luna 2

The Luna 2 Impactor. (Credit: NASA).

The late 1950s was a heady time of firsts in space for the Soviet Union. 54 years ago today on September 12th 1959, Mother Russia achieved another first with the launch of Luna 2. The 860 lb satellite lifted off at 06:39:42 Universal Time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to impact the Moon east of the Mare Imbrium near the crater Archimedes just over 36 hours later.

This was a first in the early days of spaceflight. This was the first time that a human artifact had successfully impacted another body. Luna 2 carried a suite of instruments, as well as a pair of stainless steel pennants which were comprised of hexagonal plaques that were etched with the Soviet coat of arms. We recently came across a great old video of the Luna 2 mission and launch:

A third pennant was located aboard the rocket booster that lofted Luna 2, which struck the Moon 30 minutes later. Khrushchev presented president Eisenhower with a copy of the pennant in September 1959, which can be seen on display at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. The only other known copy exists on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere museum.

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come from the first impact of an object on the Moon, to the recent launch of NASA’s LADEE spacecraft from Wallops last Friday. It’s strange but true, the U.S. once had an idea to “nuke” the Moon early on in the space race as a demonstration of capability to the upstart Soviets.

If you’ve a view of the First Quarter Moon tonight, be sure and check out the Mare Imbrium and marvel at the site of the first time humans reached out and touched another world!

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