Luna 24

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Luna 24 (Ye-8-5M series) was an unmanned space mission of the Luna program, also called Lunnik 24. The last of the Luna series of spacecraft, the mission of the Luna 24 probe was the third Soviet mission to retrieve Lunar soil samples (the first two missions returning samples were Luna 16 and Luna 20).

  • On-orbit dry mass: 4800 kg

The probe landed in the area known as Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis). The mission successfully returned 170 grams of lunar samples to the Earth on 22 August 1976.

Luna 24 was the third attempt to recover a sample from the unexplored Mare Crisium (after Luna 23 and a launch failure in October 1975), the location of a large lunar mascon. After a trajectory correction on 11 August 1976, Luna 24 entered orbit around the Moon three days later. Initial orbital parameters were 115 x 115 kilometers at 120° inclination. After further changes to its orbit, Luna 24 set down safely on the lunar surface at 06:36 UT on 18 August 1976 at 12°45' north latitude and 62°12' east longitude, not far from where Luna 23 had landed. After appropriate commands from ground control, the lander deployed its sample arm and pushed its drilling head about 2 meters into the nearby soil. The sample was safely stowed in the small return capsule, and after nearly a day on the Moon, Luna 24 lifted off successfully from the Moon at 05:25 UT on 19 August 1976. After an uneventful return trip, Luna 24’s capsule entered Earth’s atmosphere and parachuted down to Earth safely at 17:55 UT on 22 August 1976, about 200 kilometers southeast of Surgut in western Siberia. Study of the recovered 170.1 grams of soil indicated a laminated type structure, as if laid down in successive deposits. Tiny portions of the sample were shared with NASA in December 1976.

Luna 24 was the last lunar spacecraft to be launched by the Soviet Union. As of 2010, it is also the last spacecraft from any country to have made a soft landing on the Moon.

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