Lunar Missions

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Lunar Missions

There have been a surprising number of successful lunar missions since Pioneer 4 in 1959, yielding a wealth of data that has significantly advanced our understanding of the moon. There are many interesting aspects to these missions but at The-Moon Wiki our primary interest is the returned data, together with sufficient historical background to put it in context. More general information about each mission is available on Wikipedia.

Completed Missions and Programs

This table has been adapted from [1] and some text is from [3].

  • See also the clickable timeline of links to mission information at results links at the US National Space Science Data Center.

Pioneer 4

Distant flyby. Carried a lunar radiation environment experiment and a lunar photography experiment. Radiation data showed no lunar radiation. No photographs were returned.



Series including orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return. A new The-Moon Wiki page is needed to describe the data returned by this program.


Series of photographic impactors. A new The-Moon Wiki page is needed to describe the data returned by this program.


Series of circumlunar free return probes. Gathered data on micrometeor flux, solar and cosmic rays, magnetic fields, radio emissions and the solar wind. Biological payloads were also flown and many photographs were taken.


Series of seven soft landers. Tested lunar soil mechanics and chemical composition. Took numerous photographs.

Lunar Orbiter

Series of five photographic mapping orbiters.

Explorer 35

Orbiter. Studied plasma, magnetic fields, energetic particles and solar X rays in the vicinity of the moon.


Series of manned landers.

Mariner 10


Flyby. Returned 6 mosaics of the moon. Also returned photographs of the north polar region of the moon where prior coverage was poor. These provided a basis for cartographers to update lunar maps and improve the Lunar Control Network. [2].


1990 & 1992
Flyby x 2. Returned multi-spectral images.


Orbiter. Provided data on the dust environment between the earth and the moon.


Orbiter. Returned images at various wavelengths of visible, ultraviolet and infrared, laser ranging altimetry, gravimetry and charged particle measurements. This data was used to assess the surface mineralogy of the entire surface of the Moon, provide altimetry from 60N to 60S latitude, and provide gravity data for the near side.

Lunar Prospector

Low polar orbiter. Mapped surface composition and possible polar ice deposits, measured magnetic and gravity fields, and studied lunar outgassing events.



Orbiter. Imaged the lunar surface in X-ray and infrared and from several angles to allow 3D mapping. Determined the Moon's chemical composition using X-ray spectroscopy. Used infrared light to search for ice at the Moon's south pole, where some areas of the surface are never exposed to direct sunlight. Mapped the Moon's Peaks of Eternal Light.

SELENE (Kaguya)

Three orbiters.




Orbiter and impactor.




For articles in the-moon Wiki about features observed at the landing sites of the above missions see the list of Landing Sites.

Active Missions

Planned Missions

The most recently announced launch dates for these missions will be found here.

NASA's Constellation program for manned return to the Moon has been scheduled for cancellation in the most recent budget submitted to the US Congress.
JAXA's SELENE-2 mission see for details.- astrokat Jul 27, 2010
Chang'e-3 scheduled for 2013 - astrokat Aug 21, 2010
There are 29 teams competing for the google lunar prize : details can be found here; astrokat May 2, 2011

Hitting the Moon

The first spacecraft to touch the Moon slammed into it at high speeds - the euphemistic "hard landing". During Apollo, upper stages of the Saturn rocket were impacted onto the surface to help calibrate seismometers, and recently all orbiters ended their missions with (mostly) controlled impacts, especially in hope of vaporizing polar ices. Here is a list of hard landings on the Moon, when and where (when known) they hit and observations of the impact.

NASA Crash Landing on the Moon page.
  • Luna 2. September 14, 1959, 22:02:24 UT at 29.1° N 0° W - Palus Putredinis
  • Luna 5. May 12, 1965, 19:10 UT at 31° S 8° W -
  • Luna 7. October 7, 1965, 22:08 UTC at 9.8° N - 47.8° W - Oceanus Procellarum
  • Luna 8. December 6, 1965, 21:51:30 UT at 9.6° N - 62° W - Oceanus Procellarum
  • Luna 18. at 3.57° N, 50.50° E - Mare Fecunditatis (Lunar Sample Return attempt)
  • Ranger 4 (Ranger 3 and Ranger 5 are in Heliocentric Orbit)(about Ranger 5, see the article Robots to the Moon by Frank Sartwell, National Geographic october 1962).
  • Ranger 6. February 2, 1964, 09:24:32 UTC at 9.4° N - 21.5° E - Mare Tranquillitatis (south-southwest of Ross H)
  • Ranger 7. 31 July 1964 at 13:25:49 UT at 10.35° S, 339.42° E - Mare Cognitum (northwest of Mons Moro)
  • Ranger 8. 20 February 1965 at 09:57:37 UT at 2.67° N, 24.65° E - Mare Tranquillitatis (north-northwest of Sabine E, aka Armstrong)
  • Ranger 9. 24 March 1965 at 14:08:20 UT at 12.83° S, 357.63° E - Alphonsus
    • Alika Herring and Chuck Wood observed with Kitt Peak 84" and saw no impact flash or cloud.
  • Lunar Orbiter 1. Mandel'shtam (6°35' North/ 160°72' East).
  • Lunar Orbiter 2. Between King and Ctesibius (3° North/ 119.1° East).
  • Lunar Orbiter 3. Northwest of Mees (14.3° North/ 97.7° West).
  • Lunar Orbiter 4. ??
  • Lunar Orbiter 5. North of Schluter (2.79° South/ 83.1° West).
  • Apollo LM Ascent Stages
  • Apollo SIVB stages
  • Apollo 15 sub-satellite
  • Apollo 16 sub-satellite
  • Hiten (1993)
  • Lunar Prospector
  • SMART-1
  • Chandrayaan-1 Moon Impact Probe
  • Chang'e-1
  • Kaguya

A more comprehensive list of man-made objects on the Moon (including soft landings) can be found in the Wikipedia. The coordinates of a number of these objects have been refined (and sometimes discovered) using LRO photos.

Comparison of Lunar Orbiter Instrumentations

Orbiter capabilities


  1. Don E Wilhelms, To a Rocky Moon (A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration), University of Arizona Press, 1993.
  2. The Voyage of Mariner 10: Mission to Venus and Mercury, (NASA SP-424), 1978 (scroll down for "Table of Contents"). PDF version.
  3. Wikipedia Category:Lunar spacecraft.
  4. Appendix B: Lunar Probes, Attempted and Successful from NASA SP-362 -- comprehensive list through 1978
  5. LPI Lunar Mission Summaries -- Lunar Exploration Timeline

Further Reading

a) B H Foing et al 2008 Phys. Scr. 2008 014026 doi: 10.1088/0031-8949/2008/T130/014026
SMART-1 highlights and relevant studies on early bombardment and geological processes on rocky planets.
b) Peng Wen-Xi et al 2009 Chinese Phys. C 33 819 doi: 10.1088/1674-1137/33/10/001
Prospective results of CHANG'E-2 X-ray spectrometer.
c) Zhu Meng-Hua et al 2008 Chinese Phys. Lett. 25 4490 doi: 10.1088/0256-307X/25/12/086
An Impact Model of the Imbrium Basin for Distribution of Thorium on Lunar Surface. {uses data from Lunar Prospector}