Luna 3

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The Soviet space probe Luna 3 of 1959 (of the E-3 series) was the third space probe to be sent to the neighborhood of the Moon, and this mission was an early feat in the spaceborne exploration of outer space. Though it returned rather poor pictures by later standards, the historic, never-before-seen views of the far side of the Moon caused excitement and interest when they were published around the world, and a tentative Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon was created after image processing improved the pictures. This space probe has been commonly called "Lunik 3", predominantly in the Western world.

These views showed mountainous terrain, very different from the near side, and only two dark, low-lying regions which were named Mare Moscovrae (Sea of Moscow) and Mare Desiderii (Sea of Desire). Mare Luna Desiderii was later found to be composed of a smaller mare, Mare Ingenii (Sea of Ingenuity), and several other dark craters.



The space probe was a cylindric canister with hemispheric ends and a wide flange near the top. The probe was 130 cm long and 120 cm at its maximum diameter at the flange. Most of the cylindric section was roughly 95 cm in diameter. The canister was hermetically-sealed and pressurized to about 0.22 atmosphere (23 kilopascals). Several solar cells were mounted on the outside of the cylinder, and these provided electric power to the storage batteries inside the space probe.

Shutters for thermal control were positioned along the cylinder and opened to expose a radiating surface when the internal temperature exceeded 25 celsius. The upper hemisphere of the probe held the covered opening for the cameras. Four antennas protruded from the top of the probe and two from its bottom. Other scientific equipment was mounted on the outside, including micrometeoroid and cosmic ray detectors, and the Yenisey-2 imaging system. The gas jets for its attitude control system were mounted on the lower end of the spacecraft. Several photoelectric cells helped maintain orientation with respect to the Sun and the Moon.

There were no rocket motors for course corrections.

Its interior held the cameras and the photographic film processing system, radio transmitter, storage batteries, gyroscopic units, and circulating fans for temperature control. It was spin-stabilized for most of its flight, but its three-axis attitude control system was activated while taking photos. Luna 3 was radio-controlled from ground stations in the Soviet Union.


After launching on an 8K72 (number I1-8) rocket over the North Pole, the Blok-E escape stage was shut down by radio control to put Luna 3 on its course to the Moon. Initial radio contact showed that the signal from the space probe was only about one-half as strong as expected, and the internal temperature was rising. The spacecraft spin axis was reoriented and some equipment was shut down, resulting in a temperature drop from 40 celsius to about 30 celsius. At a distance of 60,000 to 70,000 km from the moon, the orientation system was turned on and the spacecraft rotation was stopped. The lower end of the craft was pointed at the sun, which was shining on the far side of the moon.

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