Interested in a little aerospace history? With all of the hullaballoo going on about the launch of the Chinese Jade Rabbit autonomous moon rover, a few enterprising journalists have done their homework and posted a very interesting space operations article. The result: a post to entertain the rest of us with a moon landing (sort of) story from history, nearly 55 years ago. And the United States, while active in the space race, is not the protagonist of the story.
According to this Mental Floss article, the Soviets purposefully crashed an unmanned probe, Luna 2, into the moon in 1959. They did it again in 1969, when, during the time of the Apollo 11 landing, they crashed Luna 15 (read more about Luna 15, here. They hadn’t intended to do that, according to the article.
Of course, there’s also the wiki about the world history of lunar landings. Luna 2, the first probe to crash into the moon, was considered to be a success for the Soviets. Luna 15, on the other hand, was supposed to land, grab a sample of moon soil, then take off and head back home. The unintentional crash put a stop to that particular mission. These two missions were a part of the Soviet unmanned moon lander program that was more or less a series of failures, highlighted by a few successful lunar probe missions.
Interesting side note: the wiki also talks a bit about how the Soviets named their lunar probe missions AFTER launching them and seeing them well on their way to the moon, just in case a lunar probe became an Earth satellite by accident. Hence, if the probe escaped the Earth’s gravity and headed moonwards, it was a Luna mission. But if it didn’t escape gravity, then it became a Sputnik or Cosmos mission. Diabolically political!
The Mental Floss article is interesting and short, with videos and descriptions of the radio operators listening in to the Soviet activities during the attempted Luna 15 landing. The article is also a timely prompt, as I’m sure it was meant to be, for readers’ neurons to put the Chinese moon rover activities into context. A successful launch, as all spacefaring nations have learned, is not necessarily a successful mission. But each time something goes wrong, a little bit of knowledge is earned to help the next mission.