Luna 14

Luna 14The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 14 toward the moon, where it takes up a lunar orbit and returns scientific data on cosmic rays and gravitational variances. This is the last orbital mission of the Luna series; future Luna vehicles will be landers or landers with rovers, some with sample return capability.

Zond 5

Zond 5The Soviet Union launches Zond 5, a Soyuz 7K-L1 command & service module intended for flight around the moon. Rather than a cosmonaut crew, however, Zond 5 has biological specimens on board, including insects, plants, bacteria, and a pair of turtles – the first living creatures from Earth to orbit the moon. The specimens are all returned safely, though Zond 5 is the second consecutive Zond flight to lose attitude control after re-entry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean rather than making the customary propulsive return to Soviet soil. American intelligence agencies are aware of the mostly successful flight, and NASA alters the Apollo manned flight schedule to attempt to put men in orbit of the moon by the end of 1968.

Zond 6

Zond 6The Soviet Union launches an unmanned Soyuz 7K-L1 spacecraft, designated Zond 6, on a seven-day flight around the moon and back to Earth. Like Zond 5 before it, Zond 6 carries specimens of Earth animals and plants, but a rupture of the Soyuz pressure vessel results in these specimens being exposed to hard vacuum, resulting in instant death. Furthermore, the spacecraft opens and jettisons its parachutes too early, leaving it to slam into the ground at high speed. With continued glitches plaguing the Zond flights, Soviet mission planners aren’t confident enough in the 7K-L1 capsule to put cosmonauts in it for the next flight.

Apollo 8

Apollo 8Moved ahead in the schedule due to ongoing difficulties with the construction of the lunar module, Apollo 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral on a mission that represents NASA’s biggest gamble yet in the race for the moon: on only the second manned Apollo flight, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders will go to the moon, orbit it in their command/service module, and return to Earth (the lunar module is still in the late stages of development). Mission planners plot out a free return trajectory – ensuring that without engines, Apollo 8 could loop around behind the moon and swing back toward home.

This mission is dramatized in the 1968 episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Live From The Moon

Apollo 8Broadcasting live black & white television pictures from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 delivers one of the most-watched broadcasts of 1968. As the surface of the moon rolls silently outside the windows of their command/service module, the astronauts take turns reading the first chapter of Genesis, dedicating it to “all of you on the good Earth.” After ten orbits of the moon, Apollo 8 fires its engine, putting it on a return trajectory to Earth; it splashes down safely three days later.

This mission is dramatized in the 1968 episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 10

Apollo 10Apollo 10 lifts off for a dress rehearsal over the moon. Thomas Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young fly a complete Apollo stack – both the command/service module and the lunar model – to the moon, conducting practice maneuvers in lunar orbit. Over eight days, the Apollo 10 crew does everything but land on the moon. With the mission requirements fulfilled, NASA announces that the next Apollo mission will attempt an actual landing.

This mission is dramatized in the Spider episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Luna 15

Luna 15The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 15 toward the moon, the Soviet space program’s last attempt to claim a victory in the race to the moon. Intended to land on the moon and gather a core sample of lunar soil which will then be rocketed back to Earth, hopefully ahead of the arrival of lunar soil samples from the concurrent American Apollo 11 moon landing attempt, Luna 15’s lander detaches and attempts its landing on July 20th…only to crash into the moon’s surface, losing all contact with Earth, while NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepare to depart with their soil samples intact. In a rare display of international cooperation, the Soviets shared basic orbital parameters of Luna 15’s flight with NASA to avoid any navigational hazards for Apollo 11.

Apollo 11: first manned lunar landing

Apollo 10The Apollo 11 lunar module touches down in the Sea of Tranquility, a flat plain on the moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong is the first human being to set foot on another body in the solar system, followed by “Buzz” Aldrin; the two spend roughly two and a half hours on the moon and gather nearly 50 pounds of samples of lunar soil and rock. This feat effectively ends the Cold War space race, though both the United States and the Soviet Union continue their lunar efforts: more Apollo missions are still on the schedule, and the Soviet continue trying to mount a successful launch of their giant N1 rocket.

This mission is dramatized in the Mare Tranquilitatis episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Zond 7

Zond 7The Soviet Union launches the Zond 7 unmanned spacecraft, an unmanned version of the Soyuz 7K-L1 space vehicle intended to take cosmonauts around the moon. Carrying no crew, this vehicle takes pictures and tests various spacecraft systems without risking human lives. Zond 7 returns to Earth using an unusual multiple-skip atmospheric re-entry profile on August 14th. If Zond 7 had been carrying a crew, this would have been the first nominal flight of the Soyuz 7K-L1 vehicle. No cosmonaut crews would reach the moon prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century.

Apollo 12

Apollo 12Apollo 12 lifts off, with astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean set to become the next pair of human moonwalkers aboard the lunar module Intrepid, while Dick Gordon observes from orbit in the command/service module Yankee Clipper. The Intrepid crew is also assigned to deploy an instrument package called ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package) which will be left on the surface even after their departure. The mission lasts ten days.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 12: more footprints on the moon

Apollo 12Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean land on the moon in the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, a mere 600 feet away from the 1967 landing site of the unmanned Surveyor 3 probe. Pieces of Surveyor 3 are gathered for return to Earth to study the effects of prolonged exposure to the lunar environment. Conrad and Bean conduct two moonwalks, each lasting nearly four hours.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 20 hardware reassigned to Skylab

SkylabNASA formally cancels the planned Apollo 20 mission to the moon’s Copernicus crater in order to begin converting the upper stage of the mission’s Saturn V rocket into the Skylab space station, to be launched in the early 1970s. Construction of the Apollo command/service module and lunar module scheduled to fly this mission was halted before either vehicle was completed. The crew would have consisted of Stu Roosa, Paul Weitz and Jack Lousma; ironically, Weitz was transferred to the first Skylab crew, while Lousma was part of the second Skylab crew. Both later flew on shuttle missions.

Apollo 13

Apollo 13The third planned lunar landing mission, Apollo 13, lifts off. Astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are scheduled to walk in the Fra Mauro region of the moon. Command module pilot Ken Mattingly falls victim to a medical condition, leaving NASA to make a rare substitution, rotating the backup crew’s command module pilot, Jack Swigert, to the prime crew prior to launch.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13: “Houston, we’ve had a problem”

Apollo 13Halfway between Earth and the moon, a fuel cell rupture in the Apollo 13 service module causes a massive explosion. The crew has to activate the landing module, Aquarius, to use it as a “lifeboat”; the oxygen and power reserves of the command module, Odyssey, have been compromised by the explosion and must be preserved for re-entry. The crew endures extreme cold and must ration consumables to survive. Fortunately, there’s enough fuel in Aquarius’ descent stage to put the combined vehicle on a free-return trajectory, looping it around the far side of the moon for an immediate return to Earth.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 returns home

Apollo 13Having become the stuff of round-the-clock news coverage (though few media outlets bothered to cover any aspects of the mission before the emergency took place), the reactivated Apollo 13 command module Odyssey successfully reenters Earth’s atmosphere and returns its crew safely. (The lunar module, Aquarius, has been discarded in Earth orbit, where it eventually disintegrates, upon reentry; rather than landing on the moon, its fuel and air reserves have served the much more important function of keeping the crew alive.)

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 18 & 19 cancelled

ApolloAfter the Congressional budget for the fiscal year of 1971 delivers a major blow to the budget for continued space exploration, NASA cancels Apollo 18 and 19, having already taken Apollo 20 off the schedule to use its Saturn V to launch a space station into Earth orbit. Both lunar landing missions are scrapped purely due to budgetary concerns, rather than to repurpose their hardware for other missions. The Saturn V rockets constructed to send these two missions to the moon become very large, expensive museum pieces. Barring any changes to crew rosters or destination, Apollo 18 would have taken Dick Gordon, Vance Brand and Harrison Schmitt to Copernicus crater, while Apollo 19 would have seen astronauts Fred Haise, William Pogue and Gerald Carr exploring the Hadley Rille, which became Apollo 15’s destination.

Luna 16

Luna 16The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 16 toward the moon, the first success in the Soviet space program’s ongoing attempt to mount a robotic sample return mission. The lander’s drill-equipped sample collection arm gathers a 35 millimeter, 100-gram core sample of lunar soil, which is then packed into a shielded return capsule for direct return to Earth (seen here after landing). Now claiming that they advocate robotic sample return missions without putting human lives at risk, the Soviets can at last claim a lunar first – the first robotic return to Earth of a soil sample from another body in the solar system.

Zond 8

Zond 8The Soviet Union launches Zond 8, the final Zond flight and the final flight of the Soyuz 7K-L1 capsule which was intended to be the command & service module of the Soviet manned lunar effort. Again, the vehicle orbits the moon and returns to Earth unmanned after a week in space. For only the second time, the 7K-L1 vehicle performs every phase of the flight flawlessly – though the Soviet Union, trying to downplay the space race, now retroactively denies that it was ever interested in sending men to the moon.

Luna 17 and Lunokhod 1

Luna 17The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 17 toward the moon, carrying with it the first automated moon rover, Lunokhod 1. Solar-powered and deployed to the surface via a pair of ramps, the wheeled rover operates for eleven months, more than double the expected operational life span. Unlike Luna 16, Luna 17 and Lunokhod perform their studies of the lunar surface without returning any soil samples to Earth.

Apollo 14: back in business

Apollo 14After nearly a year of examining the problems that nearly doomed the crew of Apollo 13, the third lunar landing is achieved by the crew of Apollo 14, commanded by Alan Shepard, the only one of the seven original Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon; lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell joins him on the surface while Stu Roosa orbits in the command module Kitty Hawk. The Apollo 14 lunar module, Antares, makes the most accurate landing of the Apollo program in the Fra Mauro highlands (the landing site originally assigned to Apollo 13), where soil samples are collected, instruments are deployed, and Shepard becomes the first human being to hit a golf ball on the moon.

Apollo 15

Apollo 15The Apollo 15 mission lifts off, carrying astronauts David Scott, James Irwin and Al Worden on a 12-day mission to the moon and back. Aboard the lunar module Falcon, Scott and Irwin become, respectively, the seventh and eighth men to walk on the moon, exploring the mountainous Hadley Rille region, while Worden pilots the command/service module Endeavour. The service module for this mission is equipped with a suite of sensors and instruments designed to be exposed to space in lunar orbit. Scott and Irwin become the first men to drive on the moon, covering over seven miles in the first lunar rover “moon buggy.”

This mission is dramatized in the Galileo Was Right episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Luna 18

Luna 18The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 18 toward the moon, intended to repeat Luna 16’s feat of gathering and returning a sample of lunar soil to Earth. After spending nearly a week in orbit, Luna 18 descends to the surface, but ground controllers have directed it toward a hazardous mountain region, and contact is lost at the moment the vehicle signals contact with the ground – very likely a sign of a crash landing. No further communication is received from Luna 18, nor is the sample container ever sent back to Earth.

Luna 20

Luna 20The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 20 toward the moon, another robotic lunar lander with the capability of gathering a lunar soil sample and returning it to Earth. Over 50 grams of lunar material, including rocky material from the mountainous region near Luna 20’s landing site, are returned to Earth in a shielded re-entry capsule. The lander continues to operate for three days after the sample container is launched back to Earth.

Apollo 16

Apollo 16NASA launches the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, lasting 11 days total. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke descend to the lunar surface in the lander Orion, while Ken Mattingly pilots the command/service module Casper in orbit. Again, a lunar rover is tucked into one side of the lunar module, allowing Young and Duke to reach distances of 16 miles from their landing site. They spend a total of 20 hours walking on the moon’s surface, collecting over 200 pounds of soil and rock samples from the Descartes highlands region.

This mission is dramatized in the Original Wives’ Club episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 17: the last man on the moon

Apollo 17The final manned lunar landing mission lifts off atop a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 17 is the first mission to include a qualified geologist, Harrison Schmitt, in its crew; Gene Cernan and Schmitt descend to the surface aboard the lunar lander Challenger, where the last two men to walk on the moon spend a total of 22 hours exploring the Taurus-Littrow valley. For the third mission in a row, a lunar rover is stowed into one side of the lander. Astronaut Ron Evans orbits overhead in the command/service module America. The astronauts return on December 19th, bringing home nearly 250 pounds of lunar soil and rock samples.

This mission is dramatized in the La Voyage Dans La Lune episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Luna 21 and Lunokhod 2

Luna 21The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 21 toward the moon, carrying the Lunokhod 2 robotic rover. Like Lunokhod 1, this rover is solar-powered and can operate independently of its lander, though ground controllers push this vehicle further. Five months into its mission, Lunokhod is driven into a crater from which it is unable to escape; the mission is declared over a month later. This mission is not intended to return lunar soil samples to Earth.

Luna 23

Luna 23The Soviet Union launches the unmanned space probe Luna 23 toward the moon, intended to gather surface samples from the Mare Imbrium region for return to Earth. The sample collection hardware is unable to complete its task after landing, and ground controllers are only able to receive partial scientific data from the lander, whose batteries run out within three days of landing. It won’t be until 2012, when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Luna 23’s landing site from orbit, that the truth will be learned: the lander tipped over on its side during a descent mishap, leaving it intact but unable to gather a soil sample.

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.

Galileo visits a small blue planet

Earth and moonNASA/JPL’s Galileo space probe reaches the second destination on the lengthy “VEEGA” (Venus/Earth/Earth Gravity Assist) flight path that will eventually take it to Jupiter. This leg of Galileo’s journey brings it back to its home planet, Earth, where crystal-clear images of the planet are obtained from the perspective of a passing spacecraft. Galileo will loop past Earth once more at a later date en route to Jupiter.

Galileo’s last visit home

Galileo at EarthCatching the last gravity assist on its four-year “VEEGA” tour of the inner solar system, NASA/JPL’s Galileo spacecraft swings past Earth one last time, conducting further tests of its imaging system and other instruments by examining Earth and its moon. Galileo now sets its sights on the outer solar system, where it will take up an orbit around giant planet Jupiter in 1995, studing the planet and its atmosphere, its moons, and its unfriendly-to-spacecraft radiation environment. Efforts to release the vehicle’s stuck high-gain antenna continue, though NASA admits that, within a few months, they will have to begin planning for a mission that can only make use of the low-bit-rate medium-gain antenna.

Clementine lifts off

ClementineNASA’s Clementine unmanned spacecraft is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base toward Earth’s moon, the first American spacecraft to aim at that destination since the 1970s. Intended to map the moon with multispectral cameras and obtain a fresh gravity map, Clementine is a huge technological advance over NASA’s last lunar vehicle, featuring a 32-bit image processing system with solid state data storage. Clementine takes a leisurely trajectory to reach its destination, flying by Earth twice before reaching the moon a month after launch.

Clementine goes off course

ClementineNASA’s Clementine lunar orbiter, its moon mapping mission complete, is directed to fire its engines to put it on a trajectory for asteroid 1620 Geographos, a near-Earth asteroid named for the National Geographic Society (which sponsored a sky survey that led to its discovery). But one of Clementine’s thrusters stays on too long, firing for 11 minutes and revving the vehicle up to an unrecoverable spin of 80 revolutions per minute, exhausting its entire fuel supply in the process. Clementine’s secondary mission to Geographos is abandoned, and its batteries are exhausted a month later.

What Clementine found

ClementineThough its extended mission was cut short by a mishap in 1994, NASA’s ill-fated Clementine lunar orbiter returned data with significant implications for further manned visits to the moon. NASA announces that craters near the north and south poles of Earth’s moon may harbor enough water ice to allow long-term colonization, and could also be used to create propellant on-site. While this promising announcement occurs as the 30th anniversary of the first manned moon landing approaches, any further manned visits exist strictly on paper.

Kaguya lifts off

KaguyaThe Japanese space agency, JAXA, launches the unmanned SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) spacecraft to orbit Earth’s moon. SELENE is nicknamed Kaguya after a princess of the moon from Japanese folklore. Kaguya is scheduled to enter a polar lunar orbit in October, where it will conduct experiments in spectography, radio science, and charged particle and gamma ray detection. Though Kaguya has an on-board camera to map lunar terrain, the views for which it will become most famous will be shot by two HDTV cameras supplied by Japanese television network NHK, providing spectacular views of the lunar surface as they would be seen by an orbiting explorer.

Kaguya at the Moon

KaguyaJapan’s unmanned Kaguya spacecraft, also known as SELENE, enters a polar orbit around Earth’s moon with an average altitude of 62 miles. Billed by Japanese space agency JAXA as the most significant lunar mission since the Apollo era, Kaguya carries numerous science experiments, though the public is most captivated by video transmitted back to Earth from two on-board HDTV cameras supplied by television network NHK. Kaguya conducts accurate gravitational mapping of the far side of the moon for the first time, and its own terrain camera obtains high-resolution mapping data, which will later be shared with Google for an online 3-D map of the moon.

Farewell, Kaguya

KaguyaJapan’s unmanned Kaguya spacecraft, also known as SELENE, is intentionally crashed into the surface of Earth’s moon, which it has been orbiting and studying for nearly two years (twice its intended one-year operational lifetime). Having completed its observations and studies (as well as transmitting back to Earth high-definition camera views of the moon from orbit), Kaguya impacts near the crater Gill.

Chang’e 3: China’s lunar lander

Chang'e 3China successfully lands the unmanned lunar lander Chang’e 3 on the surface of the moon, only the third country on Earth to achieve a controlled lunar landing (and the first soft landing of a man-made space vehicle on the moon since the 1970s). With Chang’e 3 confirming that its solar panels have properly deployed, preparations are made to deploy its robotic lunar rover, Yutu, the first lunar rover since 1973, breaking a four-decade drought in exploring the surface of the moon.