Scientist of the Day - Luna 3
On Oct. 7, 1959, a Soviet spacecraft, Luna 3, took the very first photos of the far side of the Moon. The small probe (second image) had been launched on Oct. 4, 1959, two years to the day after the first great Soviet space triumph, the launch of Sputnik. The Soviets had tried twice before to reach the Moon; Luna 1 missed entirely, and Luna 2 crashed into the lunar surface. But Luna 3 managed to loop around the Moon and took a total of 29 grainy photos of the back side. These were transmitted to the Soviet space center several weeks later, when Luna 3 was closer to Earth.
It did not take long for the Soviets to trumpet their success with a book publication, Pervye fotografii obratnoi storony Luny (First Photographs of the Far Side of the Moon, 1959). It was published within months of the Luna 3 mission. The 35-page book contains two of the Luna 3 photographs, then a repeat of the first, annotated with white outlines, plus a photo of the Luna 3 spacecraft itself. We show them all above. The photos were considerably touched up; the original images had numerous transmission streaks and gaps and were not released until the next year. One of the reasons why Luna 3 was such a coup for the Soviet Union is that, by taking the first photographs of the back side of the Moon, Russia earned the right to name every crater and maria it photographed. This is why all the of the craters on the far side honor Russian scientists. For example, on the third lunar photo, the one with white outlines, the small crater surrounded by a white circle and the number 4 was named Tsiolkovsky, after the father of the Russian space age.
The first edition of this book in Russian is very scarce, and we are very pleased to have acquired it just last month. The cover of this first edition includes an embossed moon, utilizing the image on the third moon photo, the one with annotations (fourth image). The embossing may not show up in our picture of the cover above, but we include it anyway (fifth image). We also display a Russian postage stamp, issued to commemorate Luna 3 and its mission, and bearing the date 7 X 1959 (sixth image).
The second Russian edition, 1960, with all 29 photographs, unretouched, was already in our collection, as well as two English translations of the 2nd edition, so we now have the definitive collection on early Soviet lunar exploration. We expect to make good use of these in 2019, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.