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Lunokhod 1


The Soviet Lunokhod 1 rover flew to the Moon aboard Luna 17. The rover was to travel to various locations under the near real-time control of operators on Earth and conduct tests on the lunar soil for three lunar days (about three Earth months).


The Lunokhod 1 rover was delivered to the lunar surface by the Luna 17 spacecraft and was first successful rover to operate beyond Earth. It operated for 11 lunar days, the equivalent of 322 Earth days, and traveled more than six miles (10 kilometers) across the lunar surface, during which it transmitted more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas, performed 25 soil analyses with its spectrometer, and used a penetrometer to test the soil's mechanical characteristics at more than 500 locations. Lunokhod 1 also conducted a French experiment (similar to a U.S. Apollo experiment a year earlier) in which laser pulses from two observatories-one Soviet and one French-were reflected back to Earth, enabling measurement of the Earth-Moon distance to within about on foot (30 centimeters).

Key Dates

Nov. 10, 1970 | 14:44:01 UT: Launch (Luna 17)

Nov. 17, 1970 | 03:46:50 UT: Lunar Landing

Nov. 17, 1970 | 06:28 UT: Rover Deployed

Sept. 14, 1971 | 13:05 UT: End of Mission

In Depth

Lunokhod 1 was the first in a series of robot lunar roving vehicles whose conception had begun in the early 1960s, originally as part of the piloted lunar landing operations. Luna 17 was the second attempt to land such a vehicle on the Moon after a failure in February of 1969.

The 1,667-pound (756-kilogram) Lunokhod 1 rover stood more than 4 feet (about 1.35 meters) high and was about 7 feet (2.15 meters) across. Each of Lunokhod 1’s eight wheels could be controlled independently for two forward and two reverse speeds. The rover’s top speed was a little over 300 feet (about 100 meters) per hour, with commands issued by a five-man team of "drivers" on Earth who had to deal with a 5-second communications delay. The set of scientific instruments was powered by solar cells (installed on the inside of the hinged top lid of the rover) and chemical batteries.

Luna 17 landed on the lunar surface at 03:46:50 UT on Nov. 17, 1970 at 38 degrees 17 minutes north latitude and 35 degrees west longitude, about 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) from the Luna 16 site in the Sea of Rains. The Lunokhod 1 rover rolled over one of the ramps and onto the lunar surface at 06:28 UT.

The rover had an expected lifetime of three lunar days but operated for eleven, each of which is about one Earth month. During its 322 Earth days of operation, the Lunokhod 1 rover traveled about 6.5 miles (10.54 kilometers) and returned more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas. In addition, Lunokhod 1 performed 25 soil analyses with its X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and used its penetrometer at some 500 different locations. Controllers finished the last communications session with Lunokhod 1 at 13:05 UT on Sept. 14, 1971. Attempts to reestablish contact were finally discontinued on Oct. 4.


Launch Vehicle: Proton booster plus upper stage and escape stages; 8K82K + Blok D (Proton-K no. 251-01)

Spacecraft Mass: 1,667 pounds (756 kilograms)

Spacecraft Instruments

Imaging system (two low-resolution TVs and four high-resolution photometers)
X-ray spectrometer.
Laser reflector
Radiation detectors
X-ray telescope

- Credit: NASA

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