The late 1950s witnessed space exploration superiority by the Soviet Union. Famously, the first orbital manmade satellite achieved orbit in October of 1957 when Sputnik One made history. A month later, Sputnik Two orbited the Earth with the first animal in outer space with Laika the dog on board.
Meanwhile the United States’ program had many false starts and failures in its efforts to keep pace with the Soviets. The U.S. was finally able to match the first Soviet objective on January 31, 1958 with Explorer One.
The next major stage in exploration, unmanned flight to the moon, began in 1959. That year was dominated by Soviet efforts. January 4th Luna I became the first manmade object to leave Earth’s gravitational field and travel beyond the Moon. On September 12th Luna II became the first manmade object to hit the Moon. (See: https://bluejayblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/luna-ii/ ).
The next important step in Moon exploration came a few weeks later with the Soviet probe, Luna III. Not only was the vehicle the third spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon, it was the very first one to transmit images of the far side of the moon.
The launch of Luna III was adjusted to be slower than that of Luna I which had accidentally sent the earlier probe into a Solar orbit after it failed to hit the Moon. The flight to the Moon took a full day longer than either Luna I or II.
The satellite design featured solar cells to recharge the chemical battery system. Because digital photography had not yet been invented, the Luna III photo system used a special 35mm film. It was manufactured so that it could be automatically processed in a high temperature environment. After the film had dried, the negatives were passed in front of a television scanner to be transmitted to Earth.
The camera was installed so that its lenses pointed out from the top of the space probe. The lenses were protected during flight by a pair of hinged doors which were opened for the photographic part of the mission.
At 00:43:00 UTC on October 4, 1959 Luna III on its Vostok rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Two days later, the craft made its closest brush with the Moon where it was 6,200 kilometres from the visible side of the lunar surface.
The historical far side photography began at 03:30:00 UTC when Luna III began its session from a lunar altitude of 65,200 kilometres. The probe snaps 29 photographs during the next 40 minutes. About 70 percent of the far hemisphere is covered. The film develops automatically as planned, then is scanned and the images are stored for later transmission to Earth when it is in its return flight.
On October 18th, Luna III is close enough to Earth so it begins to beam 17 of the images in fax format. The photos were of low but recoverable quality. Another attempt at resending the images was tried later, but contact was lost on October 22nd.
The electronically dead Luna III remained in Earth orbit for a few more months. The Soviet space agency said that the probe entered Earth’s atmosphere on March 29, 1960 and disintegrated because of friction and heat.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that NASA and Роскосмос (Roscosmos) data were used for today’s post.