To the Moon

To the Moon: A Timeline of Lunar Exploration

Recent discussions about restarting Manned Exploration of the Moon deserves some reflection on historical Lunar Missions. In all, since the first serious try in 1958 (USA's Pioneer 0), men have attempted 105 missions to the Moon, with two more slated in the next couple of years. (For this site, 'Attempted Lunar Missions' are defined as spacecraft that were launched with the goal of a lunar landing, flyby or orbit). Of these 105 attempts, only 46 completed their missions successfully. Americans launched 44 missions (with a 64% success rate), the USSR attempted 59 missions (with a 34% success rate). Japan has successfully launched one probe, with two more to come, and the ESA has a single probe en route to the Moon by 2005.

Did you know the first Earth Creatures to reach the Moon were not American Astronauts, but Soviet Turtles, or which year the first photos of the Moon's far side were taken? Click for even more Assorted Lunar Mission Facts, related Lunar Links, or return to

Lunar Missions and information are listed below, in order, starting in 1958. You may choose the following sorting options:
  • All 107 Spacecraft
  • Only spacecraft from the USA [44]
  • Only spacecraft from the USSR [59]
  • Only spacecraft from Japan [3]
  • Only spacecraft from the European Union [1]
  • Only Successful Missions [46]
  • Only Failures [52]
  • Only spacecraft that were Destroyed [66]
  • Only spacecraft that are Still in orbit [12]
  • Only spacecraft that are Still sitting intact on the Moon [19]
  • Only missions that left pieces on the Moon and returned pieces to Earth [10]
  • Only missions that returned to Earth without touching the Moon [7]
success = success   failure = failure   mixed = mixed results
nametypenoted forfate
usa  Pioneer 0 [Thor-Able 1]orbiterfailure First US Lunar Mission attemptDestroyed by explosion on launch
ussr  Luna 1958Aimpactfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Pioneer 1[Able 2]orbiterfailure First craft launched by NASADestroyed on Earth re-entry
ussr  Luna 1958Bimpactfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Pioneer 2[Able 3]orbiterfailure n/aDestroyed on Earth re-entry
ussr  Luna 1958Cimpactfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Pioneer 3flybyfailure Detects 2nd Van Allen BeltDestroyed on Earth re-entry

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 1 [Mechta]flybysuccess First craft to Moon, discovered Solar WindIn Heliocentric orbit between Earth & Mars
usa  Pioneer 4flybysuccess First US probe to escape Earth's gravityIn Heliocentric orbit between Earth & Mars
ussr  Luna 2landersuccess First spacecraft to land on MoonImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 3flyby/roundtripsuccess First images of Moon's Far SidePresumed destroyed on Earth re-entry
usa  Pioneer P-3 [Atlas Able 4]orbiterfailure n/aDestroyed on Launch

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 1960Aflybyfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 1960Bflybyfailure n/aLaunchpad Explosion
usa  Pioneer P-30 [Atlas Able 5A]orbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Pioneer P-31 [Atlas Able 5B]orbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Ranger 1test orbiterfailure n/aDestroyed on Earth re-entry
usa  Ranger 2test orbiterfailure n/aDestroyed on Earth re-entry

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Ranger 3impactfailure n/a, Missed the Moon by 37,000 kmIn Heliocentric orbit
usa  Ranger 4impactfailure n/a, Ceased functioning midflightImpacted on the the Moon
usa  Ranger 5impactfailure n/a, Died midflight, Missed Moon by 725 kmIn Heliocentric orbit

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Sputnik 25 [Sputnik 33]lander failure n/aDestroyed on Earth re-entry
ussr  Luna 1963Blanderfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 4lander (probe)mixed n/a, Missed Moon by 8,300 kmPresumed destroyed on Earth re-entry

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Ranger 6impactfailure n/a, Photo Mission, Cameras Failed midflightImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 1964Alanderfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 1964Blanderfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Zond 1964Aflybyfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Ranger 7impactsuccess First images of the Moon by a US spacecraftImpacted on the Moon

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Ranger 8impactsuccess 7,137 images of Surface transmittedImpacted on the Moon at 4,475 mph
ussr  Cosmos 60landerfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Ranger 9impactsuccess First Live TV broadcast of video from MoonImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 1965Alanderfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 5landerfailure n/a, Landing Attempt FailedImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 6landerfailure n/a, Missed Moon by 159,600 kmIn Heliocentric orbit?
ussr  Zond 3flybysuccess Images of far side, Experimental ion engineIn Heliocentric orbit
ussr  Luna 7landerfailure n/a, Landing Attempt FailedImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 8landerfailure n/a, Landing Attempt FailedImpacted on the Moon

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 9landersuccess First soft landing on Moon, Panoramic imagesSitting on Moon, in the Ocean of Storms
ussr  Cosmos 111orbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 10orbitersuccess First successful Lunar Orbit insertionLikely Impacted on the Moon (Orbital Decay)
ussr  Luna 1966Alanderfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Surveyor 1landersuccess First US soft Landing on MoonSitting on Moon, in Oceanus Procellarum
usa  Explorer 33 [IMP-D]orbiterfailure n/alaunch Failure
usa  Lunar Orbiter 1orbitersuccess Hi-Res images of Lunar SurfaceImpacted on the Moon after 577 orbits
ussr  Luna 11orbitersuccess Studied Gamma & X Rays, failed Photo projectLikely Impacted on the Moon (Orbital Decay)
usa  Surveyor 2landerfailure n/a, Error caused unrecoverable tumblingImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 12orbitersuccess Photographed Lunar SurfaceLikely Impacted on the Moon (Orbital Decay)
usa  Lunar Orbiter 2orbitersuccess Returned over 900 images of Lunar SurfaceImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 13landersuccess Soil, radiation tests, Dec 25th TV imagesSitting on Moon, in Oceanus Procellarum

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Lunar Orbiter 3orbitersuccess Photo Mission, Imaged Surveyor 1 Lander siteImpacted on the Moon
usa  Surveyor 3landersuccess Soil mechanics, Landing Tests, imagingParts returned to Earth by Apollo 12 Astronauts,
parts in Oceanus Procellarum
usa  Lunar Orbiter 4orbitersuccess Photo Reconnaisance, Future Site SelectionImpacted on the Moon
usa  Surveyor 4landerfailure n/a, Contact lost 2.5 mins from touchdownImpacted on the Moon
usa  Explorer 35 [IMP-E]orbitersuccess Discovered Solar Wind Void behind MoonElliptical lunar orbit? Turned off 6/24/73
usa  Lunar Orbiter 5orbitersuccess Photo ReconnaisanceImpacted on the Moon
usa  Surveyor 5landersuccess Tests, Recon for Landing SitesSitting on Moon, in Mare Tranquillitatis
ussr  Zond 1967Aorbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Surveyor 6landersuccess Sitting on Moon, in Sinus Medii
ussr  Zond 1967Borbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Surveyor 7landersuccess Surface Tests, Recon for Landing SitesSitting on Moon, outer rim of TychoCrater
ussr  Luna 1968Aorbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 14orbitersuccess Gravity, Radio Communication TestsElliptical lunar orbit?
ussr  Zond 1968Aflybyfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Zond 5flyby/returnsuccess Flew crew of Turtles around Moon & BackSafe Return to Earth
ussr  Zond 6flyby/returnmixed Depressurized, killing Biological PayloadSemi-Safe Return to Earth (badly damaged)
usa  Apollo 8manned orbiter/returnsuccess First manned spacecraft to reach the MoonSafe Return to Earth w/ 3 Crew Members

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Zond 1969Aflybyfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 1969Alander/roverfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Zond L1S-1orbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 1969Blander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Apollo 10manned orbitersuccess Apollo 11 'dry run', got within 14 km of MoonSafe Return to Earth w/ 3 Crew Members
ussr  Luna 1969Clander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Zond L1S-2orbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 15landerfailure Lunar surface examinations - photo/chemistryImpacted Moon July 21 (same day
Apollo 11 left Surface for return to Earth)
usa  Apollo 11manned landersuccess First Men on the Moon, 3 hour MoonwalkSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage sits in Mare Tranquilitatis
ussr  Zond 7flyby/returnsuccess Color photos, carried FM2 Dummy CosmonautSafe Return to Earth
ussr  Cosmos 300lander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Cosmos 305lander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Apollo 12manned landersuccess Two moonwalks, Experiments, Sample ReturnsSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage sits in Oceanus Procellarum

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 1970Alander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure
ussr  Luna 1970Borbiterfailure n/aLaunch Failure
usa  Apollo 13manned landermixed Mid-flight fire aborts landing, early returnSafe mid-course correction, return to Earth
ussr  Luna 16lander/sample returnsuccess First robotic probe to land & return samplesAscent Stage returned to Earth, Descent
Stage sits in Mare Foecunditatis
ussr  Zond 8flyby/returnsuccess Lunar Space Experiments, PhotographySafe Return to Earth
ussr  Luna 17/Lunokhod 1lander/roversuccess First Rover, operates for 322 days/6.5 milesBoth Luna Lander and Lunokhod
Rover sit in Mare Imbrium

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Apollo 14manned landersuccess Two Moonwalks, Experiments, 2 Golf Balls hitSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage sits near Fra Mauro crater
usa  Apollo 15manned landersuccess Three Moonwalks, incl. first Lunar Rover useSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage & Rover sit near Hadley
ussr  Luna 18orbiterfailure Communications/Spacecraft TestingImpacted on the Moon
ussr  Luna 19orbitersuccess Lunar Gravity ExperimentsElliptical Lunar orbit?

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 20lander/sample returnsuccess Lunar Soil returned to EarthAscent Stage returned to Earth, Descent
Stage sits in Mare Foecunditatis
usa  Apollo 16manned landersuccess Three Moonwalks, 27km in Lunar RoverSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage & Rover sit in Descartes Highlands
ussr  Soyuz L3/N-1unmanned landerfailure Test of N1 Rocket for Manned Lunar ProgramLaunch Failure
usa  Apollo 17manned landersuccess Last Men on Moon, 3 Moonwalks, 30km in RoverSafe Return to Earth, LM Descent
Stage & Rover sit in Mare Serenitatis

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 21/Lunokhod 2lander/roversuccess Robotic Rover travels 37km over 4 monthsBoth Luna Lander and Lunokhod
Rover sit in LeMonnier crater
usa  Explorer 49 [RAE-B]orbitersuccess Radio Astronomy Exploration of Solar SystemElliptical lunar orbit?

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 22orbitersuccess Photo/Magnetic Field ExperimentsLikely Impacted on the Moon (Orbital Decay)
ussr  Luna 23lander/sample returnmixed n/aCrash-landed in Moon's Mare Crisium,
Ceased Transmission after 3 days

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 1975Alander/sample returnfailure n/aLaunch Failure

nametypenoted forfate
ussr  Luna 24lander/sample returnsuccess Returned 170 grams of Lunar SoilAscent Stage returned to Earth, Descent
Stage sits in Mare Crisium

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nametypenoted forfate
japan  Hiten [Muses-A]orbiter pairsuccess Orbital, Aerobraking experimentsHiten Impacted Moon, Subsatellite
Hagoromo failed before Lunar Orbit

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nametypenoted forfate
usa  Clementineorbitermixed Observe Moon & Asteroid 1620 GeographosMapped Lunar Surface for 1 month,
Failed on way to asteroid

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nametypenoted forfate
usa  AsiaSat 3orbitermixed n/aCommercial satellite, rescued by pushing
into Geosync orbit via Lunar Flyby

nametypenoted forfate
usa  Lunar Prospectororbitersuccess Detailed Surface observationMapped Lunar Surface for 18 mos,
Impacted deliberately on the Moon

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nametypenoted forfate
esa  Smart 1orbiterna Solar-powered ion drive TestsLaunched successfully, en Route to
Lunar Orbit by 2005

nametypenoted forfate
japan  Lunar-Aorbiter/penetratorsna Map Surface, Monitor MoonquakesTo be Launched in 2004

nametypenoted forfate
japan  Seleneorbiter triona Study origin, evolution, tectonics of MoonTo be Launched in 2005

Assorted Lunar Mission Facts
  • First Earth Creatures to reach the Moon: Russian Turtles aboard the USSR's Zond 5 in 1968. They looped around the moon with some flies and worms, and returned safely to Earth 3 months before the Humans aboard Apollo 8 did the same.
  • First Manmade object to touch the Moon: The USSR's Luna 2 impacted the Moon at roughly 6,500 mph on Sep 13th, 1959. It carried radio equipment and Russian Emblems and Ribbons, which were explosively dispersed across the Lunar surface on impact.
  • Words learned while compiling this list: Mascon, Cislunar, Barycentric, Selenocentric
  • Year with the most missions: 1969 had 13 attempts, with 4 successes, including Apollo 11, carrying the first Men on the Moon.
  • Number of missions, tentatively identified by NASA, but not officially acknowledged by the USSR: 29.
  • First Images Ever seen of the Moon's Far Side: 18 images made in 1959 by Russia's Luna 3, including the first image ever. Luna 3 carried a camera, 40 frames of 35mm film, several lenses, a film-developing apparatus, an electronic scanner and image transmitter.
  • First Soft (controlled) landing on the Moon: Russia's Luna 9 in February of 1966.
  • Number of Spacecraft still sitting intact on the Moon: 19, including 5 Lunar Rovers (3 US and 2 USSR)
  • Length of time Russia's Lunokhod 1 Rover vehicle was operational on the surface: 322 days
  • Number of Spacecraft still in orbit around the Moon: 4? Probably only One. Satellites are often listed as "in orbit" for decades after they were last heard from. What is most probable is that satellites in low Lunar orbit eventually fell from the sky and impacted the surface. The Moon has "lumpy" gravity that makes low orbits hard to maintain.
  • Number of Humans sent to the Moon: 27 - All made up of of 3-men Apollo Crews.
  • Number of Humans to set foot on the Moon: 12 - All made up of 2-man Apollo Lander Crews.
  • Total haul of Lunar Samples: 381.3 kg (840.1 lbs) of Soil and Rocks. Of that, 381 kg (839.9 lbs) was returned by Manned US Missions. The USSR collected a total of 301 grams (10.5 oz) over three missions.
  • Total time spent on the Moon by Humans: 12 Days, 12 hours, spread over 6 Apollo Missions.
  • Total Time spent Walking on the moon: 3 Days, 8 hours, total time for 14 moonwalks (EVAs).
  • Last Human Presence on the Moon: December 14th, 1972 - Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 leave of the Lunar Surface for the last time.


  Lunar Links
  • NASA's Lunar Exploration Timeline
  • NASA's Lunar Exploration Overview
  • BBCi's Space Exploration Mission Timeline
  • Michael Light's Full Moon, a wonderful photo book
  • Apollo Image Gallery
  • Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
  • Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon also a good book
  • National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) Image Catalog
  • Missionen
  • Soviet & Russian Space Activities
  • NASA's Tentatively Identified Soviet Missions and Launch Failures
  • NASDA's Probes to explore the moon and unknown planets
  • Apollo History
  • Lunar and Planetary Institute Overview
  • Wikipedia Timeline of artificial satellites and space probes




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