February 3, 2009
On the Ground
Lunar Orbiter III image 3214 Medium from LPI Lunar Orbiter Photo Gallery and Luna 9 image from Don Davis
Forty-three years ago Luna 9 made the first soft landing on the Moon, touching down somewhere in western Oceanus Procellarum. The officially-accepted landing site, Planitia Descensus is near the the mountain at bottom center, but in his International Atlas of Lunar Exploration Phil Stooke proposes that the flat surface seen in the surface panoramas requires that the touchdown point was farther north, between the curved mare ridge in the center of this image and the older rille-cut terrain to the left. The craters Galilaei and Galilaei A are at upper right. Perhaps the half meter resolution of the upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will pinpoint the exact spot, but no matter where it landed Luna 9 was a magnificent achievement after a series of heart-breaking failures. The lander's main instrument was a camera that completed three panoramas before its batteries failed. The most often reproduced one was taken with low Sun and shows a more rubbly surface than we later saw with Surveyors and Apollos that generally landed under a higher Sun. Luna 9 proved that the Moon's surface was solid and not a dangerous dust trap.
Another cosmic anniversary: 50 years ago today Buddy Holly died in a plane crash.
Rükl plate 28
BBC story announcing the landing:
Luna 9 poster
Academician Keldysh at Luna 9 press conference.