OSB archive
OSB archive

Moon-smash memories

Pete Wilton

Spare a thought for Luna 5: it was on this day in 1965 that it attempted a 'soft' landing on the Moon but, due to a combination of gyroscope failure and human error, smashed into the surface.

It languishes in that limbo reserved for journeyman space missions between Luna 2, the first spacecraft to impact on another planet, and Luna 9, the first craft to make a controlled 'soft' landing on another world.

Luna 2 discovered that the Moon has no magnetic field. Luna 9 sent back three panoramic images of the lunar surface. Luna 5, like so many of its brethren into which so much technical know-how, energy, money and national pride was invested, just plain crashed

The Planetary Society give a full roll-call of successful and failed lunar missions but this is history still being written. As Oxford's own Chris Lintott (he of Galaxy Zoo fame) reported in a recent Sky at Night NASA's LCROSS craft will be sent hurtling into a crater near the lunar South Pole in 2009. A follow-up satellite will fly through the plume of ejected material to examine lunar soil and, significantly, look for water ice.

The results from LCROSS could help inform the efforts of NASA's LRO, which will be carrying a 'water diviner' instrument developed with the help of Fred Taylor and colleagues at Oxford's Department of Physics. The hope is that LCROSS's smashing exit will lead to scientific excitement not frustration.