Soviet Union — Roscosmos
Luna 15: Lunar Landing

Mission Details

Mission Name: Luna 15
Mission Type: Lunar Lander
Operator: Soviet Union (Roscosmos)
Launching State: Soviet Union/Russia
Location: Mare Crisium
Latitude: 17
Longitude: 60
Launch Date: 13 July 1969, 02:54:42 UT
Landing Date: 21 July 1969, 15:51 UT
Objects on or Related to Site:
Luna 15
Image Source: NASA


Luna 15 was the second attempt by the Soviet Union to recover and return lunar soil back to Earth.

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Heritage Consideration

Launched just three days before the Apollo 11 mission, Luna 15 raced to beat the crew to the Moon. In a race to reach the Moon and return to Earth, the parallel missions of Luna 15 and Apollo 11 were, in some ways, the culmination of the Moon race that defined the space programs of both the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The original plan was for Luna 15 to embark on the Moon less than 2 hours after Apollo 11, but it was not to be. Unsure of the terrain below, controllers delayed the landing by another 18 hours. During this critical period, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin walked on the Moon.

Object on or Related to Site

Object Name: Luna 15
Cospar: 1969-058A
Norad: N/A
Location: Precise location unknown or undisclosed.
Launch Date: 13 July 1969, 02:54:42 UT
Landing Date: 21 July 1969, 15:51 UT
Deployment: N/A
End Date: 21 July 1969
Function: Lunar soil sample return.
Image Source: NASA


On July 21, 1969, a little more than 2 hours prior to the Apollo 11 liftoff from the Moon, Luna 15, now on its 52nd orbit around the Moon, began its descent to the surface. Transmissions, however, abruptly ceased after four minutes instead of nearly five.

According to the original plan, the main engine was to fire for 267.3 seconds and bring the vehicle down to about 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) altitude. During the descent, transmissions from the vehicle abruptly and suddenly ended 237 seconds into the engine firing at 15:50:40 UT. The data seemed to show that the spacecraft was about 2 miles (3 kilometers) above the lunar surface. Later analysis indicated that Luna 15 had probably crashed onto the side of a mountain (at something like 298 miles per hour or 480 kilometers per hour) as a result of incorrect attitude of the vehicle at the time of ignition of the descent engine—in other words, the spacecraft was probably descending not directly towards the surface, but at a slight angle.

Luna 15 crashed about 9 miles (15 kilometers) laterally away and 28 miles (45 kilometers) ahead of its assumed location. Impact was roughly at 17 degrees north latitude and 60 degrees east longitude in Mare Crisium.

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Luna 18: Lunar Landing
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Luna 17: Lunar Landing
Luna 17 was designed to deliver a robotic rover called "Lunokhod 1" to the lunar surface. The rover was to travel to various locations under the real-time control of operators on Earth and conduct tests on the lunar soil for 3 lunar days (about 3 Earth months).
Luna 16: Lunar Landing
The mission of Luna 16 was to drill out a sample core from the Moon's surface and return it to Earth. Luna 16 was the first robotic probe to land on the Moon and return a sample to Earth. It returned 101 grams.
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