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Luna 1

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Luna 1 (Mechta)
Organization Soviet Union
Major contractors OKB-1
Mission type Planetary Science
Satellite of Sun
Orbits 37 (as of 2005)
Launch date 2 January 1959 at 16:41:21 UTC
Launch vehicle SS-6/R-7 (8K72)
Mission duration ?
Mission highlight Fly-by of Moon on 4 January 1959 at distance of 5,995 km
COSPAR ID 1959-012A
Home page NASA NSSDC Master Catalog
Mass 361 kg
Orbital elements
Semimajor axis 1.146 AU
Eccentricity 0.14767
Inclination 0.01°
Orbital period 450 d
Apoapsis 1.315 AU
Periapsis 0.9766 AU
Lunar Landing None

Luna 1 (E-1 series), also known as Mechta (Russian: Мечта, lit.: Dream) was the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon and the first of the Luna program of Soviet automatic interplanetary stations successfully launched in the direction of the Moon.

While traveling through the outer Van Allen radiation belt, the spacecraft's scintillator made observations indicating that a small number of high energy particles exist in the outer belt. The measurements obtained during this mission provided new data on the Earth's radiation belt and outer space. The Moon was discovered to have no detectable magnetic field. The first ever direct observations and measurements of the solar wind, a strong flow of ionized plasma emanating from the Sun and streaming through interplanetary space, were performed. That ionized plasma concentration was measured to be some 700 particles per cm at altitudes 20-25 thousand km and 300 to 400 particles per cm at altitudes 100-150 thousand km. The spacecraft also marked the first instance of radio communication at the half-million-kilometer distance.

A malfunction in the ground-based control system caused an error in the rocket's burntime, and the spacecraft missed the target and flew by the Moon at a distance of 5,900 km at the closest point. Luna 1 then became the first man-made object to reach heliocentric orbit and was then dubbed a "new planet" and renamed Mechta. Its orbit lies between those of Earth and Mars. The name "Luna-1" was applied retroactively years later. Luna-1 was originally referred to as the "First Cosmic Rocket", in reference to its achievement of escape velocity.

The spacecraft

The scientific equipment and the satellite's power center were located in the spherical container, combining for a mass of 361.3 kg. Five antennae extended from one hemisphere. Instrument ports also protruded from the surface of the sphere. The spacecraft contained radio equipment, a tracking transmitter, a telemetry system, five different sets of scientific devices for studying interplanetary space (including a magnetometer, Geiger counter, scintillation counter, and micrometeorite detector), and other equipment. The total final (with fuel spent) mass of the third (upper) stage rocket with the spacecraft was 1472 kg.

It was intended that after a completion of its scientific mission of in-flight measurements, Luna-1 would crash into the Moon, delivering two metallic pennants with the Soviet coat of arms that were included into its package.

The flight

Luna 1 was launched 2 January 1959 at 16:41 GMT (19:41 Moscow Time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome by a Luna 8K72 rocket.

Luna 1 became the first ever man-made object to reach the escape velocity of the Earth (what is also known as the second cosmic velocity), when it separated from its 1472kg third stage. The third stage, 5.2m long and 2.4m in diameter, traveled along with Luna 1. On 3 January, 3:56:20 Moscow Time, at a distance of 119,500 km from Earth, a large (1 kg) cloud of sodium gas was released by the spacecraft, thus making this probe also the first artificial comet. This glowing orange trail of gas, visible over the Indian Ocean with the brightness of a sixth-magnitude star for a few minutes, was photographed by Mstislav Gnevyshev at the Mountain Station of the Main Astronomical Observatory of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR near Kislovodsk. It served as an experiment on the behavior of gas in outer space. Luna 1 passed within 5995 km of the Moon's surface on 4 January after 34 hours of flight. It went into orbit around the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

See also

Preceded by
Luna 1958C
Luna programme Succeeded by
Luna 1959A

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Published - July 2009

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