on lunar exploration

Luna 1 
The history of lunar exploration began in 1959, just two years after the launch of Sputnik 1. In the space of just two months the USSR and the USA had both sent missions to successfully fly past the Moon (Luna 1 and Pioneer 4 respectively).

For the next decade, east/west rivalry fuelled an unparalleled period of discovery. In 1966 alone no fewer than nine missions were launched to the Moon. The Soviets made much of the running, following up the first fly-by with the first impact, the first lander, the first orbiter, the first return probe and the first rover. Their Luna series was to run for an unmatched 24 missions.

 Apollo 11
But ultimately, these achievements would all be overshadowed. The change began on 25th May 1961, when President John F Kennedy announced America's intention of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth". The US' Ranger probes were followed by the Surveyor landers, whose mission was to establish suitable landing sites. Finally came the Apollo missions - a herculean effort involving over a million people and culminating in Apollo 11. On 20th July 1969, watched by an estimated one billion people world-wide, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, posthumously fulfilling Kennedy's dream and effectively winning the Space Race for America.

Whilst the motivation for most of this activity was political, the scientists involved were determined to take the opportunity to learn as much as possible. The later Apollo "J" missions in particular were designed to carry a much heavier experimantal payload, and the crew of the final mission, Apollo 17, included professional geologist Harrison Schmitt.

The data gathered during these years fed a great deal of scientific discovery, and much is still being learnt today as newer techniques are applied, but none of this was enough to sustain government commitment. Public apathy coupled with the $25 billion price tag for Apollo led to its demise in 1972, and three years later the USSR also launched its final Moon mission.

Apart from a brief flyby by Galileo, en-route to Jupiter, and the launch of Japan's Hiten orbiter, both in 1990, the Moon remained unvisited for nearly two decades.

Then in 1994 the obiter Clementine, sponsored by the US Department of Defense to test multispectral surveying systems, found tell-tale traces of cometary water ice in pockets around the Moon's poles, and rekindled interest in lunar exploration. It has already been followed by NASA's Lunar Prospector, with enhanced surveying techniques, and a further four missions have been scheduled by Japan and Europe.

The discovery of water is immensely significant to to future of lunar exploration. It makes the establishment of a permanent colony more practical, but this is still a tremendously expensive proposition. Certainly little will happen without a breakthrough in space travel technology. Several new ideas are being worked on, and with luck one of these might even bring the cost of lunar travel into the realm of the rich adventurers who would otherwise be ballooning around the world. Already one commercial craft has carried out a lunar flyby (HGS 1 in 1998) although this was really just an innovative way to recover a malfunctioning telecommunications satellite.

2 JanLuna 1USSRflyby (4 Jan)NSSDC
3 MarPioneer 4USAflyby (4 Mar)NSSDC
12 SepLuna 2USSRimpact (14 Sep)NSSDC
4 OctLuna 3USSRflyby (6-7 Oct)NSSDC
23 AugRanger 1USAtest flightNSSDC
18 NovRanger 2USAtest flightNSSDC
26 JanRanger 3USAimpact (missed Moon)NSSDC
23 AprRanger 4USAimpact (26 Apr)NSSDC
18 OctRanger 5USAimpact (missed Moon)NSSDC
2 AprLuna 4USSRimpact (missed Moon)NSSDC
30 JanRanger 6USAimpact (2 Feb)NSSDC
28 JulRanger 7USAimpact (31 Jul)LPI, NSSDC
17 FebRanger 8USAimpact (20 Feb)LPI, NSSDC
21 MarRanger 9USAimpact (24 Mar)LPI, NSSDC
9 MayLuna 5USSRlander (crashed)NSSDC
8 JunLuna 6USSRlander (missed Moon)NSSDC
18 JulZond 3USSRflyby (20 Jul)NSSDC
4 OctLuna 7USSRlander (crashed)NSSDC
3 DecLuna 8USSRlander (crashed)NSSDC
31 JanLuna 9USSRlander (3 Feb)NSSDC
31 MarLuna 10USSRorbiter (3 Apr - 30 May)NSSDC
30 MaySurveyor 1USAlander (2 Jun)LPI, NSSDC
10 AugLunar Orbiter 1USAorbiter (14 Aug - 29 Oct)LPI, NSSDC
24 AugLuna 11USSRorbiter (28 Aug - 1 Oct)NSSDC
20 SepSurveyor 2USAlander (crashed 22 Sep)LPI, NSSDC
22 OctLuna 12USSRorbiter (25 Oct - 19 Jan 1967)NSSDC
6 NovLunar Orbiter 2USAorbiter (10 Nov - 11 Oct 1967)LPI, NSSDC
21 DecLuna 13USSRlander (24 Dec)NSSDC
5 FebLunar Orbiter 3USAorbiter (8 Feb - 9 Oct)LPI, NSSDC
17 AprSurveyor 3USAlander (20 Apr)LPI, NSSDC
4 MayLunar Orbiter 4USAorbiter (8 May - 31 Oct)LPI, NSSDC
14 JulSurveyor 4USAlander (contact lost on descent)LPI, NSSDC
1 AugLunar Orbiter 5USAorbiter (5 Aug - impact 31 Jan 68)LPI, NSSDC
8 SepSurveyor 5USAlander (11 Sep)LPI, NSSDC
7 NovSurveyor 6USAlander (10 Sep)LPI, NSSDC
9 NovApollo 4USAunmanned test flightNSSDC
7 JanSurveyor 7USAlander (10 Jan)LPI, NSSDC
22 JanApollo 5USAunmanned test flightNSSDC
4 AprApollo 6USAunmanned test flightNSSDC
7 AprLuna 14USSRorbiter (10 Apr)NSSDC
14 SepZond 5USSRcircumlunar return probe (21 Sep)NSSDC
11 OctApollo 7USAtest flightNSSDC
10 NovZond 6USSRcircumlunar return probe (17 Nov)NSSDC
21 DecApollo 8USAmanned orbiterLPI, NSSDC
3 MarApollo 9USAtest flightNSSDC
18 MayApollo 10USAmanned orbiterLPI, NSSDC
13 JulLuna 15USSRorbiter (16 Jul - impact 21 Jul)NSSDC
16 JulApollo 11USAmanned landing (20 - 21 Jul)LPI, NSSDC
7 AugZond 7USSRcircumlunar return probe (14 Aug)NSSDC
14 NovApollo 12USAmanned landing (19 - 20 Nov)LPI, NSSDC
11 AprApollo 13USAmanned landing (aborted)LPI, NSSDC
12 SepLuna 16USSRsample return probe (landed 20 Sep, returned 24 Sep)NSSDC
20 OctZond 8USSRcircumlunar return probe (27 Oct)NSSDC
10 NovLuna 17USSRlander and rover (5 Nov - 4 Oct 71)NSSDC
31 JanApollo 14USAmanned landing (5 - 6 Feb)LPI, NSSDC
26 JulApollo 15USAmanned landing and rover (30 Jul - 2 Aug)LPI, NSSDC
2 SepLuna 18USSRimpact (11 Sep)NSSDC
28 SepLuna 19USSRorbiter (3 Oct - 30 Sep 72)NSSDC
14 FebLuna 20USSRsample return probe (landed 21 Feb, returned 25 Feb)NSSDC
16 AprApollo 16USAmanned landing and rover (21 - 24 Apr)LPI, NSSDC
7 DecApollo 17USAmanned landing and rover (11 - 14 Dec)LPI, NSSDC
8 JanLuna 21USSRlander and rover (15 Jan - May/Jun)NSSDC
10 JunRAE-BUSAorbiter (15 Jun - Aug 77)NSSDC, Grand Tours
29 MayLuna 22USSRorbiter (2 Jun - early Nov)NSSDC
28 OctLuna 23USSRsample return probe (landed 6 Nov, failed to return)NSSDC
9 AugLuna 24USSRsample return probe (landed 14 Aug, returned 22 Sep)NSSDC
18 OctGalileoUSAflyby (8 Dec 1990, 7 Dec 1992)LPI, NSSDC
24 JanHitenJapanflyby and orbiter (18 March - 10 April 1993)NSSDC
25 JanClementineUSAorbiter (Feb - Jun)LPI, NSSDC
24 DecAsiaSat 3 / HGS 1USAflyby (13 May 1998, 7 Jun 1998)NSSDC
7 JanLunar ProspectorUSAorbiter (11 Jan - 31 Jul 1999)LPI, NSSDC
27 SepSMART 1EUorbiter (1 Feb 2005 - )NSSDC, project page
2005Lunar-AJapanorbiter and penetratorsNSSDC
2005SuperSatUSAcommercial orbiterproject page
2005?TrailblazerUSAcommercial orbiterproject page
2006SeleneJapanorbiter and landerNSSDC
2006-7?IceBreakerUSAcommercial roverproject page
2006Selene BJapanlanderproject page
2010?Moonrise (Lunar SPA Basin Sample Return)USAsample return probeproposal
2002LOOMJapanorbiter and probeESA
2003LunarSatEUorbiterproject home
2005MOROEUorbiterproject page