Luna 24 was the third Soviet attempt to land at the site of a large mass concentration on the Moon, obtain a soil sample down to about 6.6 feet (2 meters) beneath the lunar surface, and return it to Earth.
From the previously unsampled Mare Crisium region of the Moon, Luna 24 delivered about six ounces (more than 170 grams) of soil to the Soviet Union. It was the final Soviet lunar probe.
Aug. 9, 1976 | 15:04:12 UT: Launch
Aug. 14, 1976: Entered lunar orbit
Aug. 18, 1976: Landed on the Moon
Aug. 19, 1976: Samples Launched from the Moon
Aug. 23, 1976: Landed back on Earth in Siberia
Luna 24 was the third attempt to recover a sample from the unexplored Mare Crisium (after Luna 23 and a launch failure in October 1975), the location of a large lunar mascon.
After a trajectory correction on Aug. 11, 1976, Luna 24 entered orbit around the Moon three days later. Initial orbital parameters were 72 x 72 miles (115 x 115 kilometers) at 120 degrees inclination. After further changes to its orbit, Luna 24 set down safely on the lunar surface at 06:36 UT on Aug. 18, 1976 at 12 degrees 45 minutes north latitude and 62 degrees 12 inches east longitude, not far from where Luna 23 had landed.
After appropriate commands from ground control, the lander deployed its sample arm and pushed its drilling head about 6.6 feet (2 meters) into the nearby soil. The sample was safely stowed in the small return capsule, and after nearly a day on the Moon, Luna 24 lifted off successfully from the Moon at 05:25 UT on Aug. 19, 1976.
After an uneventful return trip, Luna 24's capsule entered Earth's atmosphere and parachuted down to Earth safely at 05:55 UT on Aug. 23, 1976, about 124 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Surgut in western Siberia. Study of the recovered 6 ounces (170.1 grams) of soil indicated it had a laminated type structure, as if laid down in successive deposits.
Tiny portions of the sample were shared with NASA in December 1976. Luna 24 remains the last Soviet probe to the Moon. The next mission to explore the Moon—An American spacecraft called Clementine—launched more than 14 years later.
Launch Vehicle: 8K82K + Blok DM (Proton-K no. 288-02)
Spacecraft Mass: 12,787 pounds (5,800 kilograms)
Stereo imaging system
Improved drill for sample collection
- Credit: NASA