An eye for an i #340 Children

When Luna 10 went around the moon

A replica of the Luna 10 spacecraft at the Museum of Air and Space in Paris, France.   | Photo Credit: Photo: Pline/Wikimedia Common

Have you ever stared at the Moon, wondering about the mysteries and secrets that it possesses? Being a natural satellite of the Earth, the Moon has fascinated humankind from time immemorial.

While we still continue to learn more and more about it, knowledge about it increased by leaps and bounds during the second half of the 20th century. This period included the Space Age when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were involved in a tug of war to find out who will land the first humans in space.

The Americans did manage to edge out in the end, with their famed Apollo 11 spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. The Soviets, however, did enjoy a number of successes before it, including the first spacecraft that successfully orbited our Moon.

About Luna 10

Following a string of achievements with their Luna missions, the Soviets turned their attention towards a spacecraft that would become the first to orbit the Moon. The Luna 10 mission was designated a Ye-6S spacecraft, with a fuelled mass of around 1,350 kg attached to a 245 kg lunar orbiter module, which was 1.5 m tall and 75 cm in diameter at the base.

The payload included seven instruments: a gamma-ray spectrometer, a triaxial magnetometer, a piezoelectric micrometeoroid detector, gas discharge counters, measuring devices for infrared emissions from the Moon, low energy X-ray detectors, and a bank of charged particle detectors. It additionally comprised a radio system that was to be employed for gravitational and radio occultation studies.

First attempt fails

The first attempt of the mission, scheduled for March 1, 1966, failed as it never left the Earth orbit. Following this failure, the second and backup Ye-6s probe was hastily prepared. Launched on March 31, 1966, it turned out to be successful.

After being injected into an Earth orbit, Luna 10 was launched towards the Moon from its Earth-orbiting platform. It did require a mid-course correction on April 1, but by April 3 Luna 10 entered orbit around the Moon. When the lunar orbiter module separated and started going around the Moon, it became the first human-made object to orbit any astronomical body other than the Earth.

Over 200 data transmissions

Apart from its firsts, Luna 10 also provided valuable information about the Moon based on observations through the equipment it carried. It was able to tell that magnetic field around the Moon was either weak or non-existent and also that the Moon doesn’t possess any discernible atmosphere (we now know that the Moon has a very, very thin layer of gases).

In all, the Luna 10 operated as an artificial satellite of our natural satellite for 56 days, completing 460 lunar orbits during that time and providing over 200 data transmissions. When its batteries started dying out and signals were discontinued on May 30, 1966, it was still in an orbit around our Moon.


A lie that stood for decades

The launch of the Luna 10 was timed such that it would be orbiting the Moon for the first time when the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union convened.

In order to make a political show of it, Luna 10 carried a set of solid-state oscillators programmed to reproduce the notes of The Internationale, the anthem of the Soviet Union.

On the morning of April 4, 1966, The Internationale was played over loudspeakers to the 5,000 delegates who had assembled, claimed to be broadcast live from Luna 10 as it went around the Moon.

This claim, however, was revealed to be a lie nearly 30 years later. While the playback went perfectly well during a rehearsal on the night of April 3, the controllers discovered a missing note in a session during the morning of April 4. In order to avoid any embarrassment, they played a recording from the previous night, claiming it to be live.

Therefore, while the broadcast was from Luna 10 as it orbited the Moon, it wasn’t in fact live, but only a recording.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 7:13:14 PM |

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