17. The first spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity, Luna 1 missed its original lunar trajectory in January 1959 and instead remains in orbit around the Sun to this day
Achieving a host of technical landmarks, Luna 1, also known as “Mechta”, was the first spacecraft to enter into a heliocentric orbit, even if not originally intended to do so, the first to detect solar winds, and, perhaps most famously, the first to reach the vicinity of the Moon. Launched on January 2, 1959, Luna 1 became the first man-made object to reach the escape velocity of Earth, thereby traveling beyond the gravitational pull of our planet and the first to exit geocentric orbit. During its travels, Luna 1 passed through the Van Allen radiation belt, permitting valuable data to be collected on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Originally intended to impact the Moon, a programming error caused the spacecraft to instead miss the celestial body by approximately 6,000 kilometers. Consequently, Luna 1 alternatively entered into a heliocentric orbit around the Sun and between the orbits of the Earth and the Moon, becoming a “new planet” where it continues to reside today. The verification of the existence of solar winds – streams of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun – combined with the revelation the Moon possessed no magnetic field, remains among the most important astrophysical discoveries regarding planetary formations and conditions.