In 1959, It Was Russia Who Struck the Moon
On September 12, 1959, the day before Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev was scheduled to fly to Washington, President Eisenhower was in a helicopter heading towards for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Upon landing, he received the news that the Soviet Union had launched a multi-stage rocket from the steppes of Kazahkstan.
By the time the news went out over the AP wire, the Soviet rocket had travelled more than 125,000 miles from earth—more than half the distance from the earth to the moon. Russian radio foretold that the satellite would plant the hammer and sickle on the lunar surface immediately preceding Kruschev’s arrival on American soil. The capsule carried instruments to gather information on the moon’s magnetic poles, the earth’s radiation belt, cosmic radiation and the gaseous makeup of interplanetary substances.
Dominance of the skies was still in play and information on earth came at a premium. The Los Angeles Times reported there was “no announcement of any passenger, either human or animal. The weight of the instrument package suggested a man, or even a dob, would seem to be out of the question.” In Moscow, people packed Red Square to listen to a broadcast of the satellite’s even beeps until the rocket made impact among three depressions known as the Seas of Serenity, Tranquility and Vapors. When the spacecraft finally impacted the lunar surface, it scattered 150 badges of the hammer and sickle and a plaque to mark the impact: USSR, September 1959. Signals from the rocket ended upon impact.
Photo: Russian stamp commemorating the impact of the Luna II spacecraft
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