15. In an attempt to outshine the successful transmission of orbital photographs by the United States, the Soviet Union launched Luna 3 in October 1959 to obtain images of the dark side of the Moon.
Beaten by the United States on August 7, 1959, with Explorer 6 transmitting the first photographs taken from the Earth’s orbit, the Soviet Union sought to respond to this accomplishment with an even grander feat. As a result, Luna 3 was charged with photographing not merely the Earth from orbit but the far side of the Moon. Designed with several solar cells to provide power to the batteries, reflecting the confidence of Soviet rocket engineers in their telemetry Luna 3 possessed no rocket motors to allow for course correction. Launched on October 4, 1959, the spacecraft successfully reached the dark side of the Moon.
Taking 29 pictures over the course of 40 minutes on October 7, from distances of between 63,500 and 66,700 kilometers above the surface of the Moon, attempts to transmit these images were unsuccessful until the spacecraft began its return to Earth. On October 18, 17 photographs of low-quality resolution were received, before the craft was destroyed upon re-entry. Despite their poor quality, the images offered humanity their first ever glimpses of the far side of the Moon. Published around the world, and offering significant scientific insights, the United States would not replicate the achievement until the mid-1960s.