Luna 24: the last lunar lander

Luna 24The Soviet Union launches the robotic lunar lander and sample return mission, Luna 24. Touching down safely in the Mare Crisium region two weeks after its launch, Luna 24 drills a two-meter core sample of lunar soil for return to Earth in a small reentry capsule. Luna 24 is the final Soviet mission to the moon, and is the last vehicle from Earth to land on the moon in the 20th century. NASA and the Soviet space agency exchange samples of lunar soil later in 1976, since Luna 24 landed in a region unexplored by the Apollo manned landing missions.

Abandon ship!: Soyuz 21’s hasty return

Salyut 542 days into their stay aboard the military space station Salyut 5, Soviet cosmonauts Boris Volynov and Vitaly Zholobov report unusual odors in the station’s air. On the 49th day of their stay, the two men bundle into their Soyuz 21 capsule to return home on only 10 hours’ notice, an unprecedented event. Details of the causes of the emergency return remain closely guarded to this day, including the possibility of toxic gas escaping into the station’s atmosphere and causing one or both cosmonauts to suffer rapidly deteriorating health. Neither of them fly in space again after their return.