Luna-10: First Spacecraft in Lunar Orbit

Forty-five years ago today — March 31, 1966 — the Soviet Union launched Luna-10 to the Moon.

(Luna-10 spacecraft. Image from the National Space Science Data Center.)

Luna-10 was the first spacecraft to achieve orbit around the Moon, making it “the first human-made object to orbit any body beyond the Earth.”

And, proving that the Space Race was as much a game of international pride as anything, the launch “was timed so that the spacecraft would come around on its first orbit just as the Twenty-third Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was convening for its morning session.” It took a little subterfuge to demonstrate that pride, though:

At the Communist Party Congress, the “Internationale” was played over loudspeakers for the assembled 5000 delegates on the morning of 4 April, ostensibly broadcast live from Luna 10 as it rounded the Moon. In fact, it was revealed thirty years later that it was a recording from Luna 10 from the previous night, used because the controllers did not trust a live broadcast and because in a session earlier that morning it was discovered that a note was missing in the transmission from the solid-state oscillators programmed to reproduce the notes of the song.

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