Only seven nations (or political unions) have been to or orbited the moon so far as part of a successful or semi-successful mission – and the runner-up doesn’t even exist anymore. This is the tally of moon missions long after the first race for spacethat saw the U.S. and the USSR square off in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and at the recent beginning of the new era of moon missions that included the participation of new national actors.
The U.S. tops the current list, with 30 completed successful missions to the moon or its orbit between 1959 and 2013, according to OMG Space. The USSR flew 23 such missions between 1959 and 1976. China stepped up its space program in the 2000s and flew its first mission of the Chang’e program in 2007. All six attempted missions related to the program have been successful or semi-successful (Rover Yutu that landed on the moon in the Chang’e 3 mission in December 2018 stopped moving after around six weeks but maintained radio contact). China counts seven missions to the moon after a Hong Kong satellite, AsiaSat 3, in 1997 missed its Earth orbit, which was subsequently adjusted with the help of two lunar fly-bys, marking the first (accidental) commercial mission to the moon.
India successfully completed a lunar orbit and impactor mission (Chandrayaan-1) in 2008 and entered the moon orbit again in September 2019, with a lander and rover mission that was – most likely – a failure. Contact was lost with the lander upon approach and the Indian mission control does suspect a hard landing. Japan has currently also completed two missions, orbiter Hiten in 1990 (semi-successful) and combined orbiter and impactor mission Kaguya in 2007. The EU sent probe Smart-1 into lunar orbit in 2003, testing solar-powered ion drive technology.Finally, Luxembourg company LuxSpace piggybacked a small independent probe on the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which orbited the moon and returned to Earth in 2014.
Israel is the sole country which can look back only on failed missions to the moon. Their single moon mission, carried out by nonprofit SpaceIL, crash-landed on the moon in February 2019.
Between 1976 and 1990, no moon missions were carried out by any nation.
This article is originally posted in World Economic Forum.
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