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Luna 1

A museum replica
Mission type Lunar impactor
Operator Soviet Union
Harvard designation 1959 Mu 1
SATCAT № 112
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer OKB-1
Launch mass 361 kilograms (796 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date January 2,1959 16:41:21 (1959-01-02T16:41:21Z) UTC
Rocket Luna 8K72
Launch site Baikonur 1/5
Orbital parameters
Reference system Heliocentric
Semi-major axis 1.146 AU
Eccentricity 0.14767
Perihelion 0.9766 AU
Apohelion 1.315 AU
Inclination 0.01 degrees
Period 450 days
Lunar flyby (failed impact)
Closest approach 4 January 1959
Distance 5,995 kilometres (3,725 mi)

Luna 1, also known as Mechta (Russian: Мечта, lit.: Dream),[1] E-1 No.4 and First Cosmic Ship,[2] was the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Earth's Moon, and the first spacecraft to be placed in heliocentric orbit. Intended as an impactor, Luna 1 was launched as part of the Luna programme in 1959, however due to an incorrectly timed upper stage burn during its launch, it missed the Moon; in the process becoming the first spacecraft to leave geocentric orbit.

While traveling through the outer Van Allen radiation belt, the spacecraft's scintillator made observations indicating that a small number of high energy particles exist in the outer belt. The measurements obtained during this mission provided new data on the Earth's radiation belt and outer space. The Moon was found to have no detectable magnetic field. The first ever direct observations and measurements of the solar wind,[2][3][4] a strong flow of ionized plasma emanating from the Sun and streaming through interplanetary space, were performed. That ionized plasma concentration was measured to be some 700 particles per cm3 at altitudes 20-25 thousand km and 300 to 400 particles per cm3 at altitudes 100-150 thousand km.[5] The spacecraft also marked the first instance of radio communication at the half-million-kilometer distance.

A malfunction in the ground-based control system caused an error in the rocket's burntime, and the spacecraft missed the target and flew by the Moon at a distance of 5,900 km at the closest point. Luna 1 then became the first man-made object to reach heliocentric orbit and was then dubbed a "new planet" and renamed Mechta (Dream).[6] Its orbit lies between those of Earth and Mars. The name Luna 1 was applied retroactively years later. Luna 1 was also referred to as the "First Cosmic Rocket", in reference to its achievement of escape velocity.


  • Spacecraft 1
  • Launch 2
  • Sodium release experiment 3
  • Miscalculation 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Luna 1 contained radio equipment including a tracking transmitter and telemetry system, and five instruments to study the Moon and interplanetary space; including a magnetometer, geiger counter, scintillation counter, and micrometeorite detector.

Luna 1 was designed to impact the Moon, delivering two metallic pennants with the Soviet coat of arms that were included into its package. This mission was eventually accomplished by Luna 2.


Luna 1 was launched at 16:41 GMT (22:41 local time) on 2 January 1959 from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome by a Luna 8K72 rocket. Luna 1 became the first man-made object to reach the escape velocity of the Earth, along with its carrier rocket's 1,472-kilogram (3,245 lb) upper stage, which it separated from after achieving heliocentric orbit.

Due to a programming error, the duration of the upper stage's burn was incorrect, and consequently Luna 1 failed to impact the Moon. The spacecraft passed within 5,995 kilometres (3,725 mi) of the Moon's surface on 4 January after 34 hours of flight. It remains in orbit around the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.[7]

Sodium release experiment

At 00:56:20 UTC on 3 January, at a distance of 119,500 kilometres (74,300 mi) from Earth,[5] 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of sodium gas was released by the spacecraft, forming a cloud behind it to serve as an artificial comet. This glowing orange trail of gas, visible over the Indian Ocean with the brightness of a sixth-magnitude star for a few minutes, was photographed by Mstislav Gnevyshev at the Mountain Station of the Main Astronomical Observatory of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR near Kislovodsk.[5] It served as an experiment on the behavior of gas in outer space.


Luna 1 was meant to crash on the moon. However, a malfunction on the ground control system led the probe into missing its target, (the moon) by 6000 kilometres. However, Luna 1 still managed to collect vital information to assist in our understanding of the universe.[8]

See also

  • Pioneer 4 - a similar NASA mission launched 3 March 1959, two months after Luna 1.


  1. ^ David Darling, The complete book of spaceflight: from Apollo 1 to zero gravity. John Wiley and Sons, 2003, p. 244. ISBN 0-471-05649-9
  2. ^ a b Brian Harvey, Russian planetary exploration: history, development, legacy, prospects. Springer, 2007, p.26. ISBN 0-387-46343-7
  3. ^ .Internet Encyclopedia of ScienceDavid Darling,
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links

  • Boris Chertok, "Rakety i liudi: goriachie dni, kholodnoy voyny", Moscow, "Mashinostroenie", 2nd ed. (1999). Sect. 2–7.
  • Luna (program) in Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Russian)
  • chronologyLuna 1Zarya -
  • webpageLuna 1NASA NSSDC
  • in flightLuna 1Mstislav Gnevyshev's photograph of
  • FACTBOX - Reuters - Planned lunar missions
  • Reuters: CHRONOLOGY - Five key dates in the race to the moon
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