Fine Structure

Solving the Soviet Union's Moon Lander Mystery

We've been seeing some fantastic high-resolution shots from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the surface of the moon since the spacecraft launched in July 2009 (see Apollo Landing Sites Closer Up).

One of the fascinating things about this imagery is that we can more clearly see the results of failed missions. For obvious reasons, directly investigating failures are typically off limits once they launch. In this article, the LRO spots a failed Soviet lander that impacted the surface of the moon hard but was still communicating to Earth for some time.

As it turns out, the lander tipped over after hitting the surface of the Moon and wasn't able to capture the samples it was supposed to return to Earth.

And an interesting factoid about this same mission: the hard landing and failure occurred while Apollo 11 astronauts were taking their first spacewalk on the Moon. It was such a busy time on the Moon then! ]