Luna 1
A museum replica
Mission typeLunar impactor[1]
OperatorSoviet space program
Harvard designation1959 Mu 1
COSPAR ID1959-012A[2]
SATCAT no.00112[2]
Mission durationApproximately 62 hours[1]
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeYe-1
Launch mass361.3 kilograms (797 lb)[1]
Start of mission
Launch date2 January 1959, 16:41:21 (1959-01-02UTC16:41:21Z) UTC[1]
RocketLuna 8K72
Launch siteBaikonur, Site 1/5
End of mission
Last contact5 January 1959
Orbital parameters
Reference systemHeliocentric
Semi-major axis1.146 AU
Perihelion altitude0.9766 AU
Aphelion altitude1.315 AU
Period450 days
Epoch1 January 1959, 19:00:00 GMT[3]
Lunar flyby (failed impact)
Closest approach4 January 1959
Distance5,995 kilometres (3,725 mi)

Luna 1, also known as Mechta (Russian: Мечта [mʲɪt͡ɕˈta], lit.: Dream), E-1 No.4 and First Lunar Rover,[4] was the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of Earth's Moon, the first spacecraft to leave Earth's orbit, and the first to be placed in heliocentric orbit. Intended as a Moon impactor, Luna 1 was launched as part of the Soviet Luna programme in 1959.

A malfunction in the ground-based control system caused an error in the upper stage rocket's burn time, and the spacecraft missed the Moon by 5,900 km (more than three times the Moon's radius). Luna 1 became the first human-made object to reach heliocentric orbit and was dubbed "Artificial Planet 1"[5] and renamed Mechta (Dream).[6] Luna 1 was also referred to as the "First Cosmic Ship",[5] in reference to its achievement of Earth escape velocity.


The satellite and rocket carrying Luna 1 was originally referred to as the Soviet Space Rocket by the Soviet Press.[1] Pravda writer Alexander Kazantsev called it Mechta (Russian: Мечта, meaning 'dream').[7][8] Citizens of Moscow unofficially deemed it Lunik, a combination of Luna (Moon) and Sputnik.[7] It was renamed to Luna 1 in 1963.[1]

The spherical satellite was powered by mercury-oxide batteries and silver-zinc accumulators.[2] There were five antenna on one hemisphere, four whip-style and one rigid, for communication purposes. The spacecraft also contained radio equipment including a tracking transmitter and telemetry system.[2] There was no propulsion system.[2]

Luna 1 was designed to impact the Moon, delivering two metallic pennants with the Soviet coat of arms that were included into its payload package.[2] It also had six instruments to study the Moon upon its suicidal approach. The flux-gate magnetometer was triaxial and could measure ± 3000 gammas. It was designed to detect lunar magnetic fields.[9][10] Two micrometeorite detectors, developed by Tatiana Nazarova of the Vernadsky Institute, were installed on the spacecraft. They each consisted of a metal plate with springs and could detect small impacts.[10] Four ion traps, used to measure solar wind and plasma, were included. They were developed by Konstantin Gringauz.[10] The scientific payload also included two gas-discharge Geiger counters, a sodium-iodide scintillation counter, and a Cherenkov detector. The upper stage of the rocket contained a scintillation counter and 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of sodium for a gas-dispersion experiment.[2][1]

The spacecraft weighed 361.3 kilograms (797 lb) at launch.[1] It was about 1.22 metres (4.0 ft) in diameter.[11]


Route of Luna 1 on a Soviet stamp

Luna 1 was launched at 16:41 GMT (22:41 local time) on 2 January 1959 from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome by a Luna 8K72 rocket.[1] The first three stages operated nominally. The Soviet engineers did not trust automated systems for controlling the engine burns, so they communicated to the rocket via radio. The signal to stop firing the engine Block E stage was sent too late,[12] and it imparted an extra 175 m/s to Luna 1.[1]

Consequently Luna 1 missed its target by 5,995 kilometers (3,725 mi). The spacecraft passed within 5,995–6,400 kilometers (3,725–3,977 mi) of the Moon's surface on 4 January after 34 hours of flight, and then became the first human made object to leave Earth's orbit on January 6, 1959.[2][1] Luna 1 ran out of battery power on 5 January, when it was 597,000 kilometers (371,000 mi) from Earth, making it impossible to track further.[1][13] The batteries were designed for a minimum of 40 hours but lasted for 62.[13]

Luna 1 became the first artificial object to reach the escape velocity of the Earth,[14] along with its carrier rocket's 1,472-kilogram (3,245 lb)[2] upper stage, which it separated from after being the first spacecraft to reach heliocentric orbit.[1] It remains in orbit around the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.[2]

Experiment results

At 00:57 GMT on 3 January 1959, at a distance of 113,000 kilometres (70,000 mi) from Earth,[1] 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of sodium gas was released by the spacecraft, forming a cloud behind it to serve as an artificial comet. The cloud was released for two purposes: to allow visual tracking of the spacecraft's trajectory[15] and to observe the behavior of gas in space.[2] 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.[16]

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 craft was unable to detect a lunar magnetic field which placed an upper limit on its strength of 1/10,000th of Earth's.[2][17] The first-ever direct observations and measurements of solar wind,[4][2] a strong flow of ionized plasma emanating from the Sun and streaming through interplanetary space, were performed.[2] The ionized plasma concentration was measured to be some 700 particles per cm3 at altitudes of 20,000–25,000 km and 300 to 400 particles per cm3 at altitudes of 100,000–150,000 km.[16] The spacecraft also marked the first instance of radio communication at the half-million-kilometer distance.


Some doubted the veracity of the Soviets' claim of mission success. Lloyd Mallan wrote about it in a book called The Big Red Lie. Many in the West did not receive transmissions from the spacecraft even though the Soviets publicized them before the flight. By the time the Earth rotated so that scientists in America could pick up signals from the spacecraft, it was already 171,000 kilometers (106,000 mi) away.[18] In May 1959 several hearings Soviet Space Technology before the Committee on Science and Astronautics and Special Subcommittee on Lunik Probe of the United States House of Representatives attested the achievements of the Soviet mission and its sophisticated guidance technology.[19]

The Soviet Union issued stamps to commemorate their success.[20]

Subsequent missions

Luna 1 Blok E upper stage and payload configuration

Luna 2, the second spacecraft of the Ye-1A series, successfully completed the mission on 13 September 1959.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Siddiqi 2018, p. 11.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Luna 1". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive.
  3. ^ "Luna 1 Launch and Trajectory Information". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Harvey 2007a, p. 26.
  5. ^ a b "Spacecraft - Details". NASA. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  6. ^ Cormack 2012, p. 342.
  7. ^ a b "New Soviet Rocket Given Name 'Mechta'". The Plain Speaker. Associated Press. 5 January 1959. p. 1 – via
  8. ^ Darling 2003, p. 244.
  9. ^ "Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer". NASA NSSDCA. 28 October 2022. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  10. ^ a b c Harvey 2007b, p. 26.
  11. ^ Reichhardt, Tony (2 January 2013). "The Luna 1 Hoax Hoax". Smithsonian Magazine.
  12. ^ Reichl 2019, p. 20.
  13. ^ a b Reichl 2019, p. 21.
  14. ^ Siddiqi 2018, p. 1.
  15. ^ Carey, Frank E. (3 January 1959). "Soviet Moon Rocket Releases Sodium Cloud as 'Tail Light'". St. Louis Post Dispatch. St. Louis, Missouri. Associated Press. p. 2 – via
  16. ^ a b "Soviet Space Rocket". Ežegodnik Bolʹšoj Sovetskoj Ėnciklopedii [Yearbook of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia] (in Russian). Moscow: Sovetskaya Enciklopediya. 1959. ISSN 0523-9613. Archived from the original on 18 January 2008.
  17. ^ Huntress Jr, Wesley T.; Marov, Mikhail Ya (2011). Soviet Robots in the Solar System Mission Technologies and Discoveries. Springer-Praxis. p. 235. ISBN 978-1-4419-7897-4.
  18. ^ Harvey 2007b, pp. 28–29.
  19. ^ "Soviet Space Technology" (PDF). CIA (published 31 August 2004). 1959. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  20. ^ Harvey 2007b, p. 30.
  21. ^ "Chronology – Five key dates in the race to the moon". Reuters. 21 October 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2019.

Further reading