From mobile smartphones to self-driving cars, our world is becoming more advanced. Even outer space is becoming more accessible, with companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX, and WorldViewEnterprises making space tourism a reality. However, one area that still remains relatively mysterious is the moon, even with all of the technological advances the world has seen throughout the past several decades.
Landing on the moon has been a difficult feat, but it has been accomplished by both manned and unmanned spacecraft. The very first nation to reach the surface of the moon was the USSR (now Russia), whose unmanned spacecraft Luna 2 impacted the moon' surface on 12 September 1959.
While Luna 2 was the first probe to land on the moon, it had been designed to crash-land into the surface (a "hard landing") rather than conduct a soft landing. The first successful soft landing on the moon's surface would happen nearly seven years later, when another Soviet craft, Luna 9, touched down gently on 3 February 1966. In all, the US and Soviet Union launched a total of 12 unmanned spacecraft to perform scientific operations on the surface of the moon from 1966 to 1976.
Since that time, several more countries have become involved in moon exploration, though to a much lesser extent. In addition to the US and Russia, China and India have both successfully soft-landed unmanned probes, landers, or rovers on the moon.
Plus, a total of eight countries (and one intergovernmental organization) have launched missions that impacted the moon: The US, Russia, China, India, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Luxembourg, and the European Space Agency (ESA). These impacts are sometimes deliberate, such as when India deliberately smashed a "Moon Impact Probe" into the surface and studied the debris that was dislodged. But most impacts are unintentional and caused by miscalculations or mechanical malfunctions.
The first manned mission landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. This mission was known as Apollo 11 and was launched by the United States. Commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon. The event was broadcast on radio and television around the world.
Future Apollo missions would repeat and expand upon this feat (including the use of a jeep-like "Lunar Roving Vehicle") for a total of six successful human lunar landings by 1972. However, as of 2023, no other country has landed humans on the moon.
|Russia||The first country to successfully land on the moon (1959), soft-land on the moon (1966), and successfully retrieve samples from the moon on an unmanned mission (1970).|
|United States||First soft-landed a few months after Russia in 1966. As of 2022, has 11 soft landings (most in the world) and is the only country to land humans on the moon (six times/12 people in all, 1969-1972).|
|China||China's Chang'e 3 lander touched down on 14 Dec. 2013, marking the first moon landing since the USSR's Luna 24 in 1976. Chang'e 4 completed the first soft landing on the dark side of the moon on 3 Jan. 2019.|
|India||Designed to impact rather than soft-land, India's probe Chandrayaan-1 reached the lunar surface on 22 Oct. 2008, making India the seventh country to successfully impact the moon. On August 23, 2023, the Chandrayaan-3 orbiter successfully deployed its Vikram lander and its cargo, the Pragyan rover, which touched down near the moon's South Pole. India thus became the fourth country to successfully soft-land on the moon.|
Moon landings are categorized as hard landings or soft landings, depending upon the speed at which the craft descends (and whether it needs to function after touchdown). Soft landings occur when the craft touches down at a safe, slow speed, and are necessary on crewed missions or missions in which the craft is expected to take scientific measurements or perform tests after landing.
Hard landings, often referred to as crash landings, typically occur at a higher rate of speed. While easier to complete, hard landings typically result in the destruction of the spacecraft—which is often perfectly acceptable if the craft has already fulfilled its purpose (such as conducting an aerial survey, for example).
Multiple additional countries either have active space programs or are home to privately funded space programs, and are therefore likely to complete a manned or unmanned soft landing on the moon by the year 2030.
One country, the United States, has landed astronauts on the moon. Four countries have soft-landed unmanned missions on the moon: the United States, Russia, China, and India. Eight countries and one intergovernmental organization have conducted missions that impacted the moon, either intentionally or unintentionally: the United States, Russia/USSR, China, India, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Luxembourg, and the European Space Agency (ESA)
The United States is the only country that has successfully landed humans on the moon, which it did six times from 1967 to 1972. However, the US and three other countries—the USSR/Russia, China, and India—have landed unmanned probes on the moon. Moreover, four additional countries (and one intergovernmental organization) have launched missions in which their spacecraft impacted the moon: Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Luxembourg, and the European Space Agency (ESA). While some impacts have been deliberate, others have resulted from failed attempts to land on or orbit the moon.