The Russian Luna 9 unmanned spacecraft has been traveling safely since its launch on Monday and now, on Thursday 3rd February 1966, the landing challenge had arrived. At an altitude of 8,300 kilometers (5,200 miles) from the moon’s surface it now had to be turned around and prepared for the best – or was it ‘the worst’? At c75 kilometers (46.531 miles) the radar altimeter jettisoned the side modules, inflated the air bags and fired the retro rockets.
I can imagine the majority back at base sitting or standing with fingers and/or legs crossed.
At 250 meters (820 feet) from the surface the main retrorocket turned off and 4 outrigger engines cut in to slow the module. At 5 meters (16 ft) above the lunar surface level a sensor touched the ground, the engines cut, the landing capsule was ejected and at a speed of 22 kph (14 mph) the spacecraft bounced a number of times before coming to rest on Thursday 3rd February 1966 at 18:45:30 UT.
In less than five minutes after landing four petals that covered the top half of the module open to improve stability – the TV camera system began working!
Whilst Soviet authorities did not immediately release images, the scientists at Jodrell Bank in England reacted promptly and within a very short time the pictures were published worldwide.
Three years later the first humans stepped out on the surface of the moon – but that is a different story!