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The Moon
The Moon

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2.3 Missions to the Moon

David A. Rothery Teach Yourself Planets, Chapter 6, pp. 66-75, Hodder Education, 2000, 2003.

Copyright © David Rothery

The Moon was the first extraterrestrial target for space missions. Probes have been directed towards it since almost the very dawn of the space age (see below), and it was the main focus of the 1960s-1970s 'space race' between the USA and the then Soviet Union. In the end, only NASA attempted to put people on the Moon, and the six successful Apollo landings brought back a total of 382 kg of lunar rocks. These samples, together with 0.3 kg collected from other sites by unmanned Soviet sample return missions, are what has enabled us to calibrate the cratering timescale and were immensely important in developing our current level of understanding of the Moon's origin and history.

The budget for the Apollo programme was terminated in 1972, after which there was little further effort in lunar exploration until 1994 when the Clementine probe went into lunar orbit and collected a wealth of previously unknown information about the topography, crustal thickness, and variations in crustal composition across the whole lunar globe (Plate 2 [image can be found at:]). This was followed in 1998 by another orbiter, Lunar Prospector, which provided even more insights and discoveries, such as the existence of ice dispersed within the regolith at both poles. The European Space Agency and Japan each plan lunar missions for the early years of the twenty-first century.

some of the successful and anticipated missions to the Moon[.] Luna missions were launched by the Soviet Union, the others are NASA missions unless specified
Luna 2impact with surfaceSept. 1959
Luna 3fly-by, images of far sideOct. 1959
Rangers 7-9images at close range prior to impactMar. 1965-July 1972
Luna 9unmanned landing, pictures from surfaceFeb. 1966
Luna 10first probe to orbit MoonApr. 1966
Surveyor 1, 3, 5-7unmanned landings, images from surfaceJune 1966-Jan. 1968
Lunar Orbiter 1-5images from orbitAug. 1966-Aug. 1967
Luna 11-12images from orbitAug.-Oct.1966
Apollo 8first manned orbitsDec. 1968
Apollo 11, 12, 14-17manned landings, geological and geophysical studies, sample returnJuly 1969-Dec. 1972
Luna 16, 20, 24unmanned sample returnsSept. 1970-Aug. 1976
Luna 17, 21Lunokhod unmanned surface roversNov. 1970, Jan. 1973
Galileofly-by en route to Jupiter, compositional mappingDec. 1992
Clementinehigh resolution multispectral imaging and laser altimetry from orbitJan-Mar. 1994
Lunar Prospectorgeophysical and geochemical mapping from orbitJan. 1998-July 1999
SMART 1European Space Agency lunar orbiter2003
Lunar AJapanese lunar orbiter and seismometers2003 [cancelled]
Selene 1Japanese lunar orbiter and lander2004 [actual launch, 2007]
David A. Rothery, Teach Yourself Planets, p. 68, Hodder Education, 2000, 2003. Copyright © David Rothery