Moon Missions


The moon is the nearest object in our celestial sky that humans could possibly visit. It made absolute sense for people to set their sights on traveling to the moon as a first step for space exploration. For every success – there were a lot of failures. The challenges that were presented to the original scientists were almost overwhelming, but they didn’t give up and they didn’t give in.

It is difficult to believe that it was only 80 years ago that engineers began to focus on traveling to the moon. What began with simple rocketry expanded to larger and more powerful systems so that eventually, we had manned missions and people walked on the moon.

History cropped

We have transitioned from just a few countries being involved in space exploration to international efforts and even partnerships between countries. The topic of all missions has also moved away from being strictly under the control of governments into private companies that are looking at the moon in completely different ways.


For a majority of the moon mission years there were only two countries that were involved in the space race. After World War II ended, the United States brought many of the German scientists to the U.S. that had been focused on rocket development. Under “Operation Paperclip,” Wernher von Braun and a team of engineers began creating the rocketry that would be essential to the success of space missions to the moon and beyond.

It was during this same time that the (then) U.S.S.R. started their own space exploration programs and the space race began.  From the 1960s through the 1990s, the U.S.S.R. and the United States were the only two countries involved in missions to the moon.

The importance of this time is that this was more than a “space race,” it was a competition between the Russian totalitarian government who would more than likely try to claim the moon as part of Russia, and the United States, who believed that the moon should be free to all countries. The space race was also a test to see who could develop the most sophisticated technology, and for Russians, this idea went beyond individual pride.

Lunar Eclipse History

It has to be understood that the computers that we have come to accept today simply didn’t exist in the startup years of space exploration. We had very rudimentary computers at that time with very little processing power, and they were incredibly large. The SIM disk that is in the average cell phone today would have taken up a 10-story building when the space race was underway in the 1960s.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed in 1958 and became the U.S. government agency responsible for all space missions. NASA’s mission is: “to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

The Beginning:

In the 1957-158 time period, the U.S. announced the intention of putting a satellite into orbit. The Soviet Union immediately followed with their intentions of doing the same thing and they achieved a lead with the 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1. Their satellite was designed to simply orbit the Earth.

After a few setbacks, the U.S. launched the Explorer 1 in 1958, which was designed as a space mission, to orbit the Earth and study the planet and its environment. Explorer 1 held experiments that assisted in identifying Van Allen radiation belts that surround the Earth.

1958 was also the year that NASA was consolidated to be the agency in charge of all space missions. The process led it to absorb many of the military and research centers around the U.S.

LSAMlaunch Beginning

Both Russia and the U.S. launched many test vehicles that contained animals, including chimpanzees and a dog, to see how creatures functioned in high altitudes and zero gravity conditions.

In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to achieve space flight. 20 days later, President John F. Kennedy made the well-known speech, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”  This announcement made reaching the moon a priority for NASA.

The 1960s continued with the U.S. Mercury and Gemini programs, each designed to continue the testing process for technology as well as human endurance in space situations. The final set was the Apollo missions, whose only goal was to get American astronauts to the moon and fulfill President Kennedy’s promise.

With the help of Wernher von Braun, who leaded a team of engineers, the U.S. moved closer and closer to a moon landing. There was a major setback with Apollo 1 that caught on fire and killed three astronauts, but NASA continued with the final success of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first human being to step out onto the moon’s surface and famously said “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The Apollo program continued until 1972 with the success of twelve astronauts walking on the surface of the moon and over six landing missions.


1960s Moon Missions:

April 15, 1960 Unnamed Luna USSR Flyby Unsuccessful
April 16, 1960 Unnamed Luna USSR Flyby Unsuccessful
Sept. 25, 1960 Pioneer P-30 USA Orbiter Unsuccessful
Dec. 15. 1960 Pioneer P-31 USA Orbiter Unsuccessful
Jan. 26, 1962 Ranger 3 USA Impact Unsuccessful
April 26, 1962 Ranger 4 USA Impact Unsuccessful
Oct. 21, 1962 Ranger 5 USA Impact Unsuccessful
Jan. 4, 1963 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Feb. 3, 1963 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Apr. 2, 1963 Luna 4 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Jan. 30, 1964 Ranger 6 USA Impact Unsuccessful
Mar. 21, 1964 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Apr. 20, 1964 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
July 28, 1964 Ranger 7 USA Impact Successful
Feb. 17, 1965 Ranger 8 USA Impact Successful
Mar. 12, 1965 Kosmos 60 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Mar. 21, 1965 Ranger 9 USA Impact Successful
Apr. 10, 1965 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
May 12, 195 Luna 5 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
June 11, 1965 Luna 6 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
July 20, 1965 Zond 3 USSR Flyby Successful
Oct. 4, 1965 Luna 7 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Dec. 3, 1965 Luna 8 USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Jan. 31, 1966 Luna 9 USSR Lander Successful
Jan. 31, 1966 Luna 9 USSR Lander Successful

First lunar soft landing by Luna 9 and first picture of the moon’s surface

Mar. 1, 1966 Kosmos 111 USSR Orbiter Unsuccessful
Mar. 31, 1966 Luna 10 USSR Orbiter Successful
June 2, 1966 Surveyor 1 USA Lander Successful

First U.S. lunar landing by Surveyor 1 and first U.S. picture of the lunar surface

Aug. 10, 1966 Lunar Orbiter 1 USA Orbiter Successful
Aug. 24, 1966 Luna 11 USSR Orbiter Successful
Sept. 20, 1966 Surveyor 2 USA Lander Unsuccessful
Oct. 22, 1966 Luna 12 USSR Orbiter Successful
Nov. 6, 1966 Lunar Orbiter 2 USA Orbiter Successful
Dec. 21, 1966 Luna 13 USSR Lander Successful
Feb. 8, 1967 Lunar Orbiter 3 USA Orbiter Partial
Apr. 17, 1967 Surveyor 3 USA Lander Successful
May 4, 1967 Lunar Orbiter 4 USA Orbiter Partia
July 14. 1967 Surveyor 4 USA Lander Unsuccessful
Aug. 1, 1967 Lunar Orbiter 5 USA Orbiter Successful
Sept. 8, 1967 Surveyor 5 USA Lander Successful
Nov. 7, 1967 Surveyor 6 USA Lander Successful
Jan. 7, 1968 Surveyor 7 USA Lander Successful
Feb. 7, 1968 Unnamed Luna USSR Lander Unsuccessful
Apr. 7, 1968 Luna 14 USSR Orbiter Successful
Sept. 18, 1968 Zond 5 USSR Flyby Successful
Nov. 10, 1968 Zond 6 USSR Flyby Partial
Dec. 21, 1968 Apollo 8 USSR Orbiter Successful
Feb. 19, 1969 Unnamed Luna USSR Rover Unsuccessful
May 18, 1969 Apollo 10 USA Orbiter Successful
June 14, 1969 Unnamed Luna USSR Sample Return Unsuccessful
July 18, 1969 Luna 15 USSR Orbiter/SR Partial
July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 USA Orbiter/SR Successful

Apollo 11 First manned mission to successful walk on the moon and collect samples

Aug. 11, 1969 Zond 7 USSR Flyby Successful
Sept. 23, 1969 Kosmos 300 USSR SampleReturn Unsuccessful
Oct. 22, 1969 Kosmos 305 USSR SampleReturn Unsuccessful
Nov. 17, 1969 Apollo 12 USA Orbiter/SR Successful

Rendezvous with Surveyor 3 on the moon’s surface

1970s Moon Missions:

Apr. 15, 1970 Apollo 13 USA Orbiter/SR Unsuccessful
Feb. 6, 1970 Unnamed Luna USSR SampleReturn Unsuccessful
Sept. 12, 1970 Luna 16 USSR



Luna 16 was first robotic to return with sample

Oct. 20, 1970 Zond 8 USSR Flyby Successful
Nov. 17, 1970 Luna 17 USSR Lander Successful
Nov. 10, 1970 Lunokhod 1 USSR Rover Successful
Jan. 31, 1971 Apollo 14 USA Orbiter/SR Successful
July 26, 1971 Apollo 15 USA Orbiter/SR Successful
July 26, 1971 PFS-1 USA Orbiter Successful
Sept. 2, 1971 Luna 18 USSR SampleReturn Unsuccessful
Sept. 28, 1971 Luna 19 USSR Orbiter Successful
Feb. 14, 1971 Luna 20 USSR Orbiter/SR Successful
Apr. 16, 1972 Apollo 16 USA Orbiter/SR Successful
Apr. 16, 1972 PFS-2 USA Orbiter Partial
Dec. 7, 1972 Apollo 17 USA Orbiter/SR Successful

Apollo 17 had first scientist astronaut onboard

Jan. 8, 1973 Lunokhod 2 USSR Rover Successful
Nov. 3, 1973 Mariner 10 USA Flyby Successful
May 29, 1974 Luna 22 USSR Orbiter Successful
Oct. 28, 1974 Luna 23 USSR SampleReturn Partial
Aug. 9, 1976 Luna 24 USSR SampleReturn Successful

1990s Robotic Moon Missions:

Jan. 24, 1990 Hiten Japan Orbiter/Impact Successful

Hiten is first Japanese space mission

Jan. 25, 1994 Clementine USA Orbiter Successful
Jan. 7, 1998 Lunar Prospector USA Orbiter/Impact Successful

Interesting Information

Interesting Information:

  • Neil Armstong carried a piece of wood and a piece of fabric from the Wright Brothers’ airplane with him when he went on the Apollo mission. He kept them in his PPK (personal preference kit). The Wright Brothers had the first record flight in 1903. The pieces that Armstrong took with him are in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
  • The Apollo 11 space mission was the single mission that everyone at NASA, the country, and in Washington, D.C. was counting on. This was the mission that would put the first human beings on the moon. However, if the mission had failed, President Nixon had a speech all prepared.
  • An “EVA” on a space mission is the “extravehicular activity,” and is the amount of time the astronauts spend outside of the probe. Both Armstrong and Aldrin had almost a full day of EVA to accomplish the many experiments that they had to perform and to place the various instruments.
  • During the first moon space missions, all astronauts were placed in quarantine for 21 days. This was a requirement because no one knew if there was any type of contamination that they might have been exposed to in space as well as being unsure if the surface of the moon was sterile or contained contaminants that could harm life on our planet.
  • During the lunar visits, astronauts left a number of things behind including pictures of human beings and audio recordings in several languages to represent the global importance of the mission. Other pictures of significance that were left included the three American astronauts that died in Apollo 1 and the two Russian cosmonauts that perished in an accident.
  • When the astronauts returned from the moon mission they had to declare the moon rocks and moon dust collected to customs authorities.
  • During the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the site that was selected for landing wasn’t acceptable due to too many boulders. Neil Armstrong took manual control of the lander, skimming over the surface of the moon looking for a good spot. He finally found one and they had only 25 seconds of fuel to spare. Had Armstrong used more fuel than that, they wouldn’t have had enough to return home.
  • Due to rather poor communications, the exact phrase spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon’s surface has been in debate. Armstrong indicated that he actually said “that’s one small step for “a” man, one giant leap for mankind.”  The quote that everyone knows doesn’t include the “a.”  Since that time, publications typically include the “a” in brackets.
  • The landing on the moon by the American astronauts was an event that was being broadcast all over the world. It’s estimated that 53 million families watched in the U.S. and it was viewed by around 600 million people globally.
  • Of the three astronauts that were sent to the moon for the first lunar mission, only two of the astronauts actually set foot on the surface of the moon. Michael Collins was the astronaut left in the module that was orbiting the moon.
  • The footprints left by the Apollo astronauts will probably remain visible for around 100 million years. The moon doesn’t have any atmosphere or weathering conditions that will wash or erode them away. Their footprints, spaceship prints, and the rover prints will remain. The only way that they might be affected is if they are disturbed by a meteorite. There are also micrometeorites that bombard the moon’s surface and, over time, they may cause an erosion.