The Soviet Luna programme (sometimes called Lunik) of 24 unmanned Moon probes achieved a series of remarkable firsts.
In 1959 Luna 1, having missed its intended target (the Moon), became the first spacecraft to orbit another body in the Solar System, the Sun. In the same year, the Russians intentionally crashed Luna 2 into the Moon - another first.
Luna 9 made the first soft landing on the Moon and returned photographs of its surroundings in 1966.
In 1970 Luna 16 became the first unmanned craft to return Moon soil samples to the Earth.
Photo: The Luna 3 probe (NASA)
Soviet Moon probes achieve a number of firsts.
The Russians crash-land the first Moon probe.
On 13 September 1959, the Russians triumphed with Luna 2 (also known as Lunik 2), the first Moon probe, which was intentionally crashed into the lunar surface. The mission was tracked from Jodrell Bank in the UK.
A Russian probe sends back the first pictures taken from the Moon's surface.
Luna 9, the first Moon probe to achieve a soft landing and send back photos of the lunar surface, caught the West by surprise in 1966. The Russian spacecraft's data transmissions were intercepted by Jodrell Bank Observatory, and the pictures were published in a British newspaper before they were published in Russia.
The Luna programme (from the Russian word Луна "Luna" meaning "Lunar" or "Moon"), occasionally called Lunik or Lunnik by western media, was a series of robotic spacecraft missions sent to the Moon by the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. Fifteen were successful, each designed as either an orbiter or lander, and accomplished many firsts in space exploration. They also performed many experiments, studying the Moon's chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation.
Twenty-four spacecraft were formally given the Luna designation, although more were launched. Those that failed to reach orbit were not publicly acknowledged at the time, and not assigned a Luna number. Those that failed in low Earth orbit were usually given Cosmos designations. The estimated cost of the Luna programme was about $4.5 billion.