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Luna 15: The Soviet Union’s Last Lunar Gamble

19 Jul 2019, 12:27 UTC
Luna 15: The Soviet Union’s Last Lunar Gamble NASA

As the historic Apollo 11 mission was heading to the Moon, a bit of space drama was unfolding before the eyes of the world. Just three days before the launch of Apollo 11, the Soviet Union had launched a 5.7 metric ton robotic spacecraft called Luna 15 towards the Moon with only a vague announcement about its mission. Speculation swirled through the Western press and among space observers about the flight’s true intentions: Was it some last-minute Soviet space spectacular? Or maybe an attempt to spy on or even interfere with the American Apollo mission? It would be decades before it was confirmed that this was actually a lunar sample return attempt employing the new E-8-5 spacecraft launched in a last ditch effort to secure the first samples from the lunar surface before Apollo.

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