Solving mysteries of the Soviet lunar lander program
April 25, 2012 2:17 PM   Subscribe

What the hell happened to the Luna 23 probe? As part of the Soviet Union's Luna program, it was designed to collect a small sample of lunar regolith and return it to Earth. But despite landing, it failed to leave the moon. Two years later, Luna 24 landed nearby and managed to attain and return a sample, but its geological properties conflicted wildly with what was expected. What the hell happened with Luna 24?

50 years later, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has solved the two mysteries.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (40 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Luna 15 marks the Soviet Union’s intersection with Apollo; Luna 15, the third designed for a sample collection and return, was launched three days before Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history’s first manned lunar landing, the orbiting Luna 15 fired its retrorockets to descend towards the surface. Unfortunately, it crashed while the Apollo 11 crew was partway through their historic moonwalk.

I didn't realize there was literally a race to the moon, in that there were satellites competing for space around the moon at the same time.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, the Soviet spaceship design aesthetic was really cool.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:24 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


dang

so peaceful and quiet

posted by this reminds me of an achewood strip at 2:33 PM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Monolith, duh.
posted by kmz at 2:38 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Good thing the Luna 15 crash did not affect the astronauts safety
posted by Renoroc at 2:45 PM on April 25, 2012


Clearly if the Moon landing had been real they would've seen Luna 15 crash. WAKE UP SHEEPLE.

this reminds me of an achewood strip

This is a fantastic gimmick account (as someone who has linked to an achewood strip or two in my time)

posted by dismas at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Space spiders, obviously!
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2012


Space spiders, obviously!

Man that movie is all kinds of terrible...
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2012


"Clearly if the Moon landing had been real they would've seen Luna 15 crash. WAKE UP SHEEPLE."

Don't be stupid, Luna 15 was filmed in a Russian studio.
posted by marienbad at 2:56 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Omon Ra takes that and runs with it in... odd directions.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tank on the Moon
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on April 25, 2012


I was going to snark about the idea of Luna 15 and Apollo 11 violently intersecting (the moon isn't that small), but actually they weren't that far apart. Mare Crisium, the crash point, is about 600-800 miles east/northeast of Mare Tranquillitatis.
posted by figurant at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2012


> Tank on the Moon

Artists rendition.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2012


50 years later, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has solved the two mysteries.

I'm sure the listeners of Coast to Coast AM would beg to differ.
posted by mrnutty at 3:42 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel really sorry for Luna 23. After so much preparation, you finally blast off from Earth, touchdown on the Moon, but then promptly fall on your side. No one gives you a hand up. One year later, Earth cuts off contact with you, so now you don't even have the clicks, static and occasional mission control babble to keep you company. Just the vast, silent, pitch-black cold of space, with the Earth hanging in the sky, reminding you of just how far away you are from everything that you love. But then! One year later, Luna 24 arrives! Finally, you're going home. You watch as the trusty lunar module takes touches down, takes samples ... and then blasts off! Man what a slap in the face that must be.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:51 PM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well, at least they didn't send the poor thing to Venus. Or Mars, planet of dead soviet probes.
posted by Artw at 3:54 PM on April 25, 2012


I love soviet space history. Growing up in a country dominated by US culture, the USSR space program was always downplayed, but they landed on Venus (and sent back pics) and Mars (almost sending back pics).
And they used to hand out lovely reward/commemoration badges to loyal party members.
posted by bystander at 4:03 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, what happened to you, man? You used to be about the lunar exploration.
posted by Trurl at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Venera missions freaked me out worse than the Mars photos did, although photos of both planets gave me the heebee-jeebees. For Venus the effect was spookier because for whatever reason, "crushing atmospheric pressure and insanely high temperatures" sounds far, far worse to me than "really, amazingly cold with a fraction of Earth's gravity and terrifically high winds."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:13 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel really sorry for Luna 23. After so much preparation, you finally blast off from Earth, touchdown on the Moon, but then promptly fall on your side
In terms of bad luck, can you go past Venera 14 that had its camera lens cap fall right where the soil probe was targetted!
posted by bystander at 4:14 PM on April 25, 2012


I feel really sorry for Luna 23. After so much preparation, you finally blast off from Earth, touchdown on the Moon, but then promptly fall on your side. No one gives you a hand up. One year later, Earth cuts off contact with you, so now you don't even have the clicks, static and occasional mission control babble to keep you company. Just the vast, silent, pitch-black cold of space, with the Earth hanging in the sky, reminding you of just how far away you are from everything that you love. But then! One year later, Luna 24 arrives! Finally, you're going home. You watch as the trusty lunar module takes touches down, takes samples ... and then blasts off! Man what a slap in the face that must be.

Can't compare with the self-esteem-crushing agony to which NASA's Spirit rover was subjected to on Mars. Obligatory xkcd.
posted by eugenen at 4:24 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Man, the Soviet spaceship design aesthetic was really cool.

The Lunokhod rover (still pic to complement artw's video) was the spookiest jules-verne-spacepunk exploration vehicle ever, and I doubt that aspect of it will ever be surpassed unless Ming the Merciless decides to have a go. All it lacked was a crooked smokestack held up by baling wire.
posted by jfuller at 4:25 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Good thing the Luna 15 crash did not affect the astronauts safety

There was little chance of that of any physical disturbance, but NASA was worried about communication interference. Astronaut Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8 had recently toured the USSR, the first astronaut to do. He had made a few engineers, so NASA asked him to contact them to see see if there would be a problem. Here's what Borman said at a press conference (From the Apollo 11 Flight Journal):
Press 3: Frank, for audio purposes, would you briefly repeat what the press release says?

Borman: The press release briefly says that Mr Kraft - Dr Kraft - excuse me - called me and said, 'We're a little bit interested in what Luna 15 is doing and could you check with some of the people that you met in the Soviet Union recently and see if you can find out?' So I, after checking with the appropriate people, called - placed a call to the Soviet Union and talked to a Dr Keldysh, and to his assistant who speaks English, and asked them if they could relay us any information and explain the - that some - there was some interest, more than casual interest in it on the part of the flight operations people here in Houston. And they responded with a cable that I received at home last night that gave the orbital parameters plus the indication that we just mentioned that they would inform us of any further changes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:31 PM on April 25, 2012


Another unfortunate piece of bad luck was when a soviet Mars orbiter was programmed to make photos of Mars surface when extremely rare planet-wide dust storms prevented it from capturing any of the surface. It wasn't programmed with enough flexibility to delay making of photos and ran out of film. In general, Soviet space efforts had extremely bad luck with Mars especially, culminating with the recent Grunt failure.
posted by rainy at 4:32 PM on April 25, 2012


Can't compare with the self-esteem-crushing agony to which NASA's Spirit rover was subjected to on Mars. Obligatory xkcd.
I felt so sorry for that rover. That's cuz I crazy. They can just send a new one.
posted by smidgen at 4:32 PM on April 25, 2012


the old one
posted by smidgen at 4:33 PM on April 25, 2012


Weep for Beagle 2!

...someday someone's going to recover that Hirst painting.
posted by Artw at 4:42 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have touched a Lunokhod. That is all.
posted by mwhybark at 5:49 PM on April 25, 2012


well, maybe not all. I think it was at this exhibition. TWENTY TWO YEARS AGO.


The cosmonaut in the article also gave me a MIR pin for knowing who Alexei Leonov was. I was in my mid-twenties.
posted by mwhybark at 5:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have touched a Lunokhod. That is all.

Keep your hands off my Venera.
posted by Mcable at 5:55 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Related: Soviet space posters, recently at Wired.
posted by mwhybark at 5:59 PM on April 25, 2012


But then! One year later, Luna 24 arrives! Finally, you're going home. You watch as the trusty lunar module takes touches down, takes samples ... and then blasts off! Man what a slap in the face that must be.

Kind of reminds me of this.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 PM on April 25, 2012


50 years later, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has solved the two mysteries.

Wait, it didn't involve a double indemnity insurance clause and a furtive meeting on a train?
posted by dhartung at 11:34 PM on April 25, 2012


Now that the Cold War is over, we can acknowledge the contributions of Russian scientists.

What a species we are.
posted by fairmettle at 3:25 AM on April 26, 2012


Info on earlier Soviet lunar missions.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 AM on April 26, 2012


The cosmonaut in the article also gave me a MIR pin for knowing who Alexei Leonov was. I was in my mid-twenties.

He once spent 326 days in space! That's amazing!
posted by Artw at 6:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Geez, it totally is. It's like, I met their champion cosmonaut at that time, and it didn't even occur to me to learn the guy's name! I mean seriously, look at the guy's career:

Yuri Romanenko, I apologize!

He's the guy on the left.

Here's another oddity: as into space stuff as I am, Col. Romanenko seems to be the only person I have ever met who has been in orbit (and spacewalked).
posted by mwhybark at 7:29 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Romanenko retired from flights in 1988 and became the director of Buran program, which was a Soviet alternative to the Space Shuttle. The program completed one flight in 1988 and was cancelled in 1993."

Wait, what? What the heck is the director of the Buran program doing handing tin MIR pins to twenty-something hipsters in Seattle in 1990? Russians, I am confuse! I mean, this was before the end of the Soviet Union.
posted by mwhybark at 7:38 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


mwhybark, it was an era of cooperation between the superpowers. Soviet travel restrictions were eased, and the cold war was jointly declared to have ended (in 1989). In any event, the Russians were always keen to showcase their space program, and while that mostly happened abroad (e.g. Paris Air Show), this was a then-rare opportunity to do a glamour tour in the US. Very soon after, the Shuttle-Mir program would begin to reap "peace dividends" for both sides, leading to ISS.

I do want to apologize for my comment above, as I was too tired to make clear that I had in mind a scenario where Luna 23 and Luna 24 were each killed by the other's jealous lover, leaving all the forensic evidence conveniently on the Moon. The bogus sample is the out-of-place clue that would lead a now-retired Arkady Renko to solve the crime, after consulting with an American expert in lunar regolith.
posted by dhartung at 11:46 AM on April 26, 2012


Random synchronicity: after many years and many recommendations I'm finally playing Mass Effect. About 30 minutes ago, I land on Luna with my team to deal with a rogue AI, and what's the first thing I see? The tipped-over wreckage of a probe called "CCCP 23". Who knew?
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:38 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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