September 15, 2015

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Turtles to the Moon

Originally published September 14, 2004


Image Credit: Chuck Wood and Edward Locke

Turtles to the Moon

By mid-1968 the Soviets were clearly behind in the race to the Moon. The USA had achieved great technical and scientific successes with Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter precursor probes, while the Soviets had not progressed beyond the Luna 9 and 13 landings. Apollo was being tested in Earth orbit and the Russians were desperately failing with the N-1 rocket and Zond probes. Finally, with a launch on September 14, 1968, a Zond spacecraft worked, and it carried the first life from Earth towards the Moon (or at least the first that survived). On September 18th the capsule flew 1850 km above the lunar surface as it rounded the Moon and headed back to Earth, with a splash down in the Indian Ocean on the 21st. The Earthlings onboard - turtles, wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria - survived the trip and reentry even though the gyros had failed and reentry was at 20Gs. Another successful circum-lunar flight by Zond 6 in November was quickly eclipsed by the Christmas, 1968 Apollo 8 mission that carried three Americans to the Moon, around it 10 times and safely back to Earth. The Zond 5 descent module is on display at the Energia Museum in Korolev, Russia, but I have no word on the fate of the space-faring turtles.

Chuck Wood

Technical Details:
Apparently Zond 5 took no images of the Moon and none of its reputedly excellent Earth images could be found on the web. Despairing of having an image for today's LPOD I searched online and found the Zond 5 stamp shown (Scott's Catalog #3579 from the Soviet Union; thanks, Ed) and then I looked through my own stamp collection and discovered this aerogramme that I had purchased in Moscow in 1969! I digitally pasted the stamp on the aerogramme and mailed it to you!

Related Links:
Zond 5 at NSSDC
Zond Circumlunar Spacecraft
Space & Astronomy Stamps

Yesterday's LPOD: Evocative Moon

Tomorrow's LPOD: A Glorious Image

Author & Editor:
Charles A. Wood


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