THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF MAN ON THE MOON
A RELIC OF THE FIRST EVER HUMAN ROBOTIC-RETURNED SAMPLE FROM ANOTHER COSMIC BODY, ACHIEVED BY THE SOVIET RUSSIAN LANDING ON THE MOON – SEPTEMBER 1970
Luna 16, also known as Lunnik 16, was an uncrewed space mission, part of the Soviet Luna programme, launched on 12th September, 1970. The mission lasted for 12 days, with the return to earth on 24th September, 1970. Luna 16, followed five unsuccessful previous attempts, and was the first robotic probe to land on the Moon and return a sample of lunar soil to Earth. The sample was returned from Mare Fecunditatis. It represented the first lunar sample return mission by the Soviet Union and was the third lunar sample return mission overall, following the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions of July and November 1969. The spacecraft descent stage had been equipped with a television camera, radiation and temperature monitors, telecommunications equipment, and an extendable arm with a drilling rig for the collection of a lunar soil sample. With “The Space Race” at its’ height, the success of this Soviet mission gave Moscow the opportunity to proudly rejoice in its’ achievements: successfully landing on the moon and returning with a Lunar soil sample, without risking human lives and at a tiny fraction of the cost of the NASA landings.
The Luna 16 automated station was launched toward the Moon from a preliminary Earth orbit and after one mid-course correction on 13 September it entered a circular lunar orbit on 17 September 1970. The lunar gravity was studied from this orbit. After two orbital adjustments were performed on 18 and 19 September. At 05:12 UTC on 20 September, the main braking engine was fired, initiating the descent to the lunar surface. Six minutes later, at 05:18 UT, the spacecraft safely soft-landed in its target area at 0°41′ south latitude and 56°18′ east longitude, in the northeast area of Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility) approximately 100 kilometers west of Webb crater and 150 km north of Langrenus crater. This was the first landing made in the lunar night side, as the Sun had set about 60 hours earlier. The main descent engine cut off at an altitude of 20m, and the landing jets cut off at 2m height at a velocity less than 2.4 m/s, followed by vertical free fall. The mass of the spacecraft at landing was 1,880 kilograms.
Less than an hour after landing, at 06:03 UT, an automatic drill penetrated the lunar surface to collect a soil sample. After drilling for seven minutes, the drill reached a stop at 35 centimeters depth and then withdrew its sample and lifted it in an arc to the top of the spacecraft, depositing the lunar material in a small spherical capsule mounted on the main spacecraft bus. The column of regolith in the drill tube was then transferred to the soil sample container.
Finally, after 26 hours and 25 minutes on the lunar surface, at 07:43 UT on 21 September, the spacecraft’s upper stage lifted off from the Moon. The lower stage of Luna 16 remained on the lunar surface and continued transmission of lunar temperature and radiation data. Three days later, on 24 September, after a direct ascent traverse with no mid-course corrections, the capsule, with its 101 grams of lunar soil, reentered Earth’s atmosphere at a velocity of 11 kilometers per second. The capsule parachuted down 80 kilometers southeast of the town of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 05:25 UT on 24 September 1970. According to the Bochum Observatory in Germany, strong and good-quality television pictures were returned by the spacecraft. Luna 16 was a landmark success for the Soviets in their deep-space exploration programme; the mission accomplished the first fully automatic recovery of soil samples from the surface of an extraterrestrial body.
For only the third time since 1970, a sample of the lunar soil brought back to Earth aboard Luna 16, is to be offered for sale by public auction. Depicted on this page (and protected in a sealed quartz vial) is the remaining portion (approx. 0.4gm) from a 1.0gm sample which was sent to our vendor who was one of the lucky scientists to be given access to the tiny quantity of soil brought back by the mission. A little more than half the allocated sample has been expended in his years of analysis, testing and re-testing, as the technology which was available for analysis in the 1970s and 1980s has been greatly enhanced in recent years. The scientist, has been long resident in Australia, where he accepted offers of research and teaching positions at two universities. Several of his papers (the latest as recently as July 2019), published under his own name, and others published in conjunction with other scientists with whom he has collaborated, accompany this remarkable sample. Furthermore, he is willing to make himself available for interview, “on the record” to the successful purchaser.
Three tiny samples (0.2gms) of the Luna 16 soil were sold at a Sotheby’s auction for US$442,500 in 1993.
The same three fragments were sold on 29 November, 2018, again through Sotheby’s, bringing US$855,000, on that occasion.
The Luna 16 flight and its’ achievements were commemorated by a set of three stamps issued by Russia later in 1970.
Three Russian Lunar Missions successfully returned to Earth with soil samples:
Luna 16: 101gms (3.6oz) in 1970
Luna 20: 30gms (1.1oz) in 1972
Luna 24: 170gms (6.0oz) in 1976
Leski Auctions is proud to have been given the opportunity to offer this important lunar sample for sale for the first time, especially as it falls in the middle of the year in which the whole world is celebrating man’s achievements in outer space.
Estimate: $500,000 – $750,000 AUD