Happy 40th Birthday, Lunokhod!


From Lunokhod to Selenokhod

On Nov. 17, we will celebrate one of the most outstanding achievements in the Russian space program. Lunokhod-1 reached the Moon 40 years ago.

Lunokhod 1 was the first of two unmanned lunar rovers landed on the Moon by the Soviet Union as part of its Lunokhod program. The spacecraft which carried Lunokhod 1 was named Luna 17. Lunokhod was the first roving remote-controlled robot to land on another celestial body.

Lunokhod 1, initially slated for a mission of just under 90 days, lasted 11 months, traveled over 10 kilometers and took over 20,000 images and over 200 panoramas. It also became the first vehicle to photograph its own footprints.

Lunokhod’s original primary mission was survey of sites for later manned landings and lunar bases. It was also intended that the spacecraft would provide a radio homing beacon for precision landings of later manned spacecraft. It was originally designed for use by a single cosmonaut as well for emergency by a single cosmonaut between primary and back-up LK lunar landers in case of failure of the primary lander. Instead it was used to explore the lunar surface by robot after the successful American manned lunar landings, and provided part of the legend that the Soviet Union would not risk cosmonauts in space and had never sought to send a man to the moon.

Today space powers of the world turned back to Moon exploration. It includes not only governmental programs, but commercial initiatives. Russian team Selenokhod takes part in one of them.

Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded. The first team to land on the Moon and complete the mission objectives will be awarded $20 million.

Selenokhod team articulated four general objectives as demonstration for all to see that progress in space can be achieved for the benefit of commerce and society, and that other programs besides those run by the military and the government can succeed. Young scientists believe that they can help reclaim Russia’s premier status in the realm of space, and to help instill a sense of renewed pride in the Russian national space program as a whole.

Moon exploration comes to the next level, in 40 years after Lunokhod 1.