Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lunokhod 1 ends its first lunar day

When Apollo 12 left the Moon, we didn't know that the next moonwalker would not be a human. The Soviets launched Luna 17 to the Moon on November 10, 1970. After achieving a parking orbit, the probe descended to the surface on November 17 and deployed the first roving vehicle on another planet, Lunokhod 1 (literally "moon walker"). The solar-powered Lunokhod 1 drove about 650 feet in its first lunar day, until local sunset on November 22. Over the next 10 months, the rover drove nearly 7 miles.

It's hard for people nowadays to understand the shock that the Soviet space program inflicted on the American psyche. The closest analogy I can make is that it was like a terrorist attack on our sensibilities. Everything the Soviets did was completely cloaked in secrecy until the event happened, and it was always timed to take the wind out of the US's sails. For instance, the West would not find out until after the fall of the Soviet Union that the USSR had been working on this program since 1966, and had attempted to launch a Lunokhod to the moon in February 1969. Had the launch vehicle not exploded shortly after liftoff, the USSR would have been "walking" on the Moon 5 months before Apollo 11 got there.

This Lunokhod 1 commemorative watch is obviously a modern creation, but I thought it was interesting. One doesn't often find watches with 24-hour dials, for example. These watches were apparently made by Raketa in St. Petersburg in the 1990s. The Cyrillic writing on the dial includes the vehicles Luna-17, Lunokhod 1, and the Russian name of Mare Ibrium, the Sea of Rains, where the vehicle landed.

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