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What was the first spacecraft to ever land on the Moon? Well, that depends on your definition of “landing”. Let’s take a look at all the first moon landings.
The first object from Earth to ever land on the Moon was the Soviet spacecraft Luna-2. It didn’t land, but actually crashed into the Moon on September 14, 1959. It impacted the lunar surface west of Mare Serenitatis near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus. Luna 2′s mission was to help confirm the discovery of the solar wind, turned up by Luna 1.
The first US spacecraft to impact the Moon was Ranger 7, which crashed into the Moon on July 31, 1964. This came after a string of failures with previous spacecraft in the Pioneer and Ranger line of robotic spacecraft.
The first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon was the Soviet Luna-9, on February 3, 1966. Well, you can’t really say that it made a soft landing. Luna-9 was equipped with an airbag system that allowed it to crash into the Moon traveling more than 50 km/hour. The first soft, soft landing was made by the US with Surveyor 1. It touched down on the surface of the Moon on June 2, 1966.
Of course, the first human landing on the Moon occurred with NASA’s Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rode the lunar excursion module down to the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969, and became the first humans to set foot on another world.
You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?