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Union was still able to announce another triumph - and its achievement became all the more apparent in March, when Pioneer 4, the first semi-successful US moon probe, missed its target by 60,000km (36,000 miles) on its way into interplanetary space.

Throughout the remainder of 1959, the Soviets made the Moon their own. Despite further problems with the R-7 rocket, they successfully crashed Luna 2 into the Moon on 14 September. Venturing beyond the Van Allen Belts, this probe also discovered the solar wind - the stream of particles constantly blowing away from the Sun

One final coup for 1959 came on 7 October, when Luna 3 successfully swung past the Moon and used an ingenious electronic camera system (see panel, right) to send back the first images of the permanently hidden lunar far side.


The Luno probes were all monufoctured ot Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau. Luna 3, seen here, was the most complex of the early designs, incorporating a camera and additional solar cells to power it.



"phototelevision" |

system carried onboard Luna 3 was the most sophisticated camera sent into space up to that time - a flying photo booth and fax machine combined. As the Moon's sunlit far side came into view, a light-sensitive cell triggered the exposure of its temperature-and radiation-resistant photographic film. These were automatically processed onboard, and once the probe was back in contact with Earth, a second radio command triggered the transmission system. This involved a cathode-ray tube that shone light through the film onto a photoelectric sensor that produced a signal proportionate to the transparency of the film. As the cathode-ray tube scanned back and forth across each picture, the varying signal sent back to Earth allowed the reconstruction of 17 low-resolution, but nevertheless ground-breaking, images of the mountainous far side of the Moon.















Pioneer 5 becomes the first spacecraft deliberately launched into interplanetary space.

October 1960

Two attempted Soviet missions to Mars, timed to coincide with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the United States, fail during launch.

4 February 1961

The first Soviet attempt to reach Venus fails to leave Earth orbit and is concealed with the codename Sputnik 7.

12 February 1961

Venera 1 is successfully launched toward Venus, but contact is lost after just a week.

22 July 1962

The Venus probe Mariner 1 fails when its Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle veers off course.

27 August 1962

Mariner 2 is successfully launched towards Venus.

1 November 1962

The Soviets finally launch a spaceprobe, Mars 1, toward Mars.

14 December 1962

Mariner 2 executes the first successful flyby of Venus.

21 March 1963

Mars 1 loses contact with Earth.

5 November 1963

Mariner 3 fails to escape Earth orbit.

2 April 1964

The Soviet Zond 1 probe is launched towards Venus but once again contact is lost during its journey.

28 November 1964

Mariner 4 is successfully launched toward Mars.

14 July 1965

Mariner 4 makes the first successful flyby of Mars.


On to the planets

The next great targets for the racing space powers were the Earth's neighbouring planets, Venus and Mars - but they would soon learn that each presented its own unique challenges.


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The Soviet Union already had an advantage in this new heat of the Space Race - the same powerful launch vehicles that allowed it to put larger satellites into orbit also allowed it to launch smaller payloads further away from the Earth and, with the addition of extra rocket stages, out of Earth's gravity altogether.

Unlike orbital or even lunar launches, however, sending spacecraft to the planets relies on the calendar. As Venus, Earth, and Mars each orbit the Sun at a different rate, the distance between them is constantly changing, and the only practical period to launch a spaceprobe is around the time of their closest approaches to the Earth, typically within a brief launch window of perhaps just a few weeks.

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