March 28, 2012

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If At First You Don't Succeed

image from LRO Featured Image (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

The Soviet lunar sample return program was a gutsy attempt to beat the Americans. It failed in that and in half of its attempts, but succeeded in three missions, Luna 16, 20 and 24 (perhaps they should have labelled all their missions with even numbers). The LRO team has successfully acquired high resolution closeup images of the successful landing sites, which provide detailed context to reevaluate the geologic settings for those samples. One of the most interesting image recoveries is of Luna 23 that reached the Moon but did not collect a sample or lift off to return to Earth. And now we know why - it fell over. All that was known before LRO was that Luna 23 apparently malfunctioned on landing, for the sampling mechanism didn't work, but the spacecraft maintained radio contact for three days. Now we see that it apparently tipped over on landing. According to the LRO Featured Image text by Jeff Plescia the part of the spacecraft labeled D is the descent module, with the ascent module, A, still on top. Two years later Luna 24 successfully set down on the lunar surface 2.3 km away, drilled a core and brought it back to Earth, the last time we got samples from the Moon.

Chuck Wood

Related Links
Rükl plate 38

Yesterday's LPOD: Four Moons Over Arkansas

Tomorrow's LPOD: Dark Names


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