Shortly after midnight in Moscow, the Soviets became the first to successfully send a human-made object to the Moon.

The Luna 2 probe was developed under the supervision of Sergei Korolev. Korolev was the Chief Designer of the Soviet space program, and he had previously created the R-7 Rocket that launched both the Sputnik 1 satellite and Laika the dog in to space.

The Soviets had attempted to reach the Moon earlier in 1959 with Luna 1, but this probe missed its target due to a malfunction on the ground that caused an error in its rocket’s burn time. With the problem fixed, the spherical design of Luna 2 was almost identical to its predecessor. Numerous antennas and instruments protruded from the probe to measure and transmit data about radiation, magnetic fields and meteorites.

The original launch on 9 September was aborted due to the core booster failing to reach full thrust at ignition, but a replacement was successfully installed for the rescheduled launch three days later. Travelling in a direct path to the Moon, rather than entering orbit first, Luna 2 reached its destination less than 36 hours after launch.

Having monitored the signals coming from Luna 2 on its journey, Soviet scientists correctly predicted that the satellite would crash into the Moon shortly after midnight on 14 September. It was clear that the mission had been a success when the signals suddenly stopped.

Luna 2 was seized upon as pro-communist propaganda, but also opened the way for American developments in the Space Race that intensified over the next decade. Just twelve years later this culminated in astronaut Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the Moon’s surface.

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