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.
Which Country Landed on the Moon First?
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 (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 U.S. and Soviet Union launched a total of 12 unmanned spacecraft to perform scientific operations on the surface of the moon from 1966 to 1976.
Which Country Was First to Walk on the Moon?
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.
While future Apollo missions would repeat and expand upon this feat (including the use of a jeep-like "Lunar Roving Vehicle"), as of late 2022, no other country has landed humans on the moon. In fact, only two countries other than the US and USSR/Russia have successfully reached the moon in any capacity:
Countries That Have Landed 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 fourth country to successfully land on the moon.|
Moon Landings: Soft Landings vs Hard Landings
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).
Countries Planning to Reach the Moon by 2030:
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.
- Canada — Possible autonomous impactor mission as well as joint mission with EU and Japan.
- Europe/EU — Possible joint lander and sample-return mission alongside Japan and Canada, possible solo rover mission.
- India — Following the high-speed touchdown of Chandrayaan-1 and the failed soft landing of Chandrayaan-2, India will again attempt a successful soft landing with Chandrayaan-3.
- Israel — Israel-based SpaceIL's Beresheet moon lander reached the moon in February 2019, but crashed during landing. Follow-up attempts are planned, if not yet funded.
- Japan — Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) planning crewed landing, privately held company ispace is working with the US and UAE on lander-focused missions.
- Mexico — Sending microrover as payload on a future US/Mexico joint mission.
- South Africa — Planned lander and rover mission could launch in 2030.
- South Korea — Planned lander and rover mission could launch in 2030.
- Turkey — Planned hard- and soft-landing missions by the end of the decade.
- Ukraine — Working alongside collaborators in UK and US to conduct a mission to explore lunar caves. War with Russia will likely delay mission.
- United Arab Emirates — Companies based in UAE, Japan, and the US are working together on an upcoming mission in which a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry a Japanese-designed lander and the UAE's lunar rover.
- United Kingdom — Working alongside Ukrainian and USA-based companies to conduct a mission to explore lunar caves, also planning solo sample retrieval mission.