Even if the United States is continuing to be the only nation that has sent humans to the Moon, the Soviet Union achieved to realize three missions to take samples from the Moon and return them to the Earth to study them.
Missions of sample collecting
The first Soviet robotic mission that landed in the Moon and returned with samples of its surface was the mission Luna 16, launched from the Earth the 12th of September 1970. The spacecraft landed in the North-West zone of the Sea of Fertility, at a 100 km distance from the crater Webb. The Luna 16 reached to collect 101 grams of lunar samples thanks to its extensible perforator device. The samples, afterward returned to the Earth for its study, were sold in an auction for the price of 442 500 dollars in 1973.
The previous mission was followed by the Soviet mission of the Luna 20, which flew as part of the Lunar Soviet program, as a robotic competitor to the six Apollo spatial crewed by American missions. The Luna 20 mission had as objective to collect material from the mountainous formation of the Apollonius, next to the Sea of Fertility, where the Luna 16 mission landed. Unfortunately, this mission only managed to return to the Earth55 grams of lunar samples, half the quantity of the previous.
The Luna 24 was the last mission to return to the Earth samples of the lunar surface. The last mission of this series was the intent of getting back a sample of the unexplored zone of the Moon Mare Cisium. After having passed a day on the Moon, the spacecraft returned to the Earth with a sample of 170 grams of that area of the Moon.
All-terrain Soviet robots
Apart from the Luna lunar missions, the Soviets also sent to our satellite two all-terrain robots: the Lunojod 1 and 2, that arrived at the Moon in the year 1970 and in 1973 respectively. The main objective of the two Soviet missions on the Moon was of exploring the lunar surface and send images from it to the Earth. This completed Luna series missions, which were orbital and sample return to the Earth missions.
The first Soviet all-terrain vehicle in arriving on the Earth, the Lunojod 1, arrived at its destiny on the 17th November 1970. It landed on the Moon and explored widely the Mare Imbrium (Sea of the rains) during the 11 months while it was still functioning, until it finalised its mission on the 4th October 1971. We have to keep in mind that the spacecraft functioned for much more time than it was predicted, exceeding by a lot the 90 days that it was thought it would function. During its period of functioning, the Lunojod 1 covered a distance of about 1o km through the lunar surface and sent around 20 000 images to the Earth. It managed to realise more than 500 experimental tests on the lunar soil, in which it analysed its physic properties in 500 tests and the chemical in another 25.
The Lunojod 1 opened the way to spatial robotic exploration, as it was the first control-remote vehicle used out from the Earth, and it realised measures of the lunar environment through an X-ray spectrometer, an X-ray telescope and a detector of cosmic rays.
The Lunojod 2 landed on the Moon on the 15th January 1973. This second all-terrain took numerous photos of the lunar surface, analysed the solar X-ray, measured the lunar magnetic field and examined the properties of some different materials from the lunar surface. Improved in comparison to its previous Soviet mission, the Lunojod 2 covered a distance of 37 km of distance and it sent 86 panoramic images and more than 80 000 televisual images. Even if it reached more succeeds in this data, it was only operative during 4 months, a month more than it was predicted to.
The cause of its low functioning time was due to that its alimentation source stopped functioning after getting covered by a dust cape that recovered its solar panels. This took place after having cruised a crater near its moon landing place. As it couldn’t produce more energy, when it exhausted it stopped transmitting data to the Earth.
In addition to the data that was collected, the true legacy of the two Lunojod missions is seen reflected in the success of the following missions that were sent to Mars with all-terrain vehicles. The Soviet missions to the Moon have helped us to arrive on other planets with more succeeds.