Home Science Space Space firsts on February 3, 1966: Luna 9 and ESSA-1
On February 3, 1966 the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 spacecraft made the first successful soft landing on the Moon, and the United States launched its first operational weather satellite ESSA-1. Both were instrumental in the continuing exploration of outer space by both countries, and now, forty-three years later, by many countries on Earth.

Soviet Union: Luna 9

The 1,580-kilogram (3,483-pound) Luna 9 (E-6 series, or Lunik 9) spacecraft was launched from Earth on January 31, 1966 at 11:45 UTC by a Molniya 8K78M launch vehicle. It was later launched toward the Moon by the 4-Stage R-7/SS-6 rocket.

At 18:44:52 UTC (2144 Moscow time), Luna 9 became the first spacecraft constructed by humans to safely soft land on another celestial body.

The success of this unmanned mission gave confidence to both Soviet and American space pioneers to take further unmanned trips to the Moon and eventually to accomplish manned missions to the Moon

After landing on the Moon’s Oceanus Procellarium, the small space traveler (which was even smaller after parts were separated before landing) was only 113-kilogram (250-pound) in weight (as on Earth).

The capsule (or, automatic lunar station) then opened up four petals that stabilized the probe and, thus, allowed the probe’s instruments to function on the Moon.

In fact, the opened capsule allowed its television camera to take panoramic views of the lunar landscape. The capsule also contained moveable antennas, radio equipment, and a rotating mirror system.

In all, seven radio sessions, which totaled eight hours, five minutes, were transmitted as were three series of television pictures. Transmissions with Luna 9 ended on February 6, 1966 when its batteries were exhausted.

To read the article that people read back on February 3, 1966, go to the BBC website On This Day for the article “1966: Soviets land probe on Moon.”

To learn more about Luna-9, visit the NASA website Solar System Exploration and the article “Luna 9.”

Page two talks about the weather satellite ESSA-1 launched by the United States on this same day in 1966.

United States: ESSA-1

On February 3, 1966 the United States launched ESSA-1, its first operational weather satellite. The orbiting spacecraft provided weather analyses and forecasts to the U.S. National Meteorological Center.

The 138-kilogram (305-pound) satellite had 9,100 solar cells, which provided power to sixty-three batteries.

Two cameras provided photographs of all parts of Earth at a certain time each day, thus allowing meteorologists to better predict weather here on Earth by studying cloud cover over the surface of Earth.

Before the ESSA-1 satellite was launched the U.S. Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) was created in 1965 in order to coordinate the weather and climate operations for the United States.

It later became the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1970.

ESSA-1 was launched first, with eight other satellites(ESSA-2 through -9) being launched through to 1969.

Additional information about the ESSA program is found on the NASA website ESSA.

The website states, “Over a period of almost 4 years, ESSA satellites transmitted thousands of images back to Earth, enabling ground stations to predict weather patterns, including hurricanes. Advances in technology allowed ESSA to more than double the amount of information gathered over the life of the program. When ESSA-6, was deactivated by NASA, its images were reaching more than 300 receiving stations around the world, in 45 countries.”


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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University






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