luna-9 image courtesy NASAOn 3 February 1966 at 18:45:30 UT Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing in the solar system. It touched down in Ocean of Storms on the Moon. It was also the first craft to transmit photographic data from the Moon's surface to Earth

The spacecraft which had a diameter of 58 centimeters and weighed 99 Kg. was a hermetically sealed container with radio equipment, a program timing device, heat control systems, scientific apparatus, power sources, and a television system. After landing the four petals, which formed the spacecraft, opened outward and stabilized it on the lunar surface. It took over 8 hours to transmit the photographs and television pictures to Earth. The pictures were then assembled on Earth to show a panoramic view of the nearby lunar surface and views of nearby rocks and of the horizon 1.4 Km away from the spacecraft

This achievement also proved that the lunar surface could support the weight of a lander and that an object would not sink into a loose layer of dust as some models predicted. That seems obvious today with the benefit of hindsight and landings on other solar system objects but in those days it was thought that the lunar ‘seas’ could consist of deep features filled with fine dust into which landing vehicles would sink without trace.

It had taken 8.5 years since Sputnik 1 to achieve this but in a little over 3 years man would actually set foot on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission.