Journey to the dark side of the moon

On this day fifty years ago, humanity got to see something it had never seen before.

On October 7, 1959, the Soviet space probe Luna 3 orbited the moon and took photos of the “dark side”.

Of course, everyone already knew that the dark side isn’t really dark. It gets just as much light as the side we see, but since it always faces away from Earth we’ve spent the last hundred thousand years wondering what’s over there. Luna 3 gave us the answer.

Some of Luna 3’s ghostly images and those from later Soviet probes can be seen here.

If you go to Moscow, you can learn the story of the Soviet space program at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, located in the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, pictured here in this striking photo taken by AlphaTangoBravo and put in our Flickr photo pool. The museum has one of the most impressive buildings of any museum anywhere, being incorporated into the base of a 107 meter (350 ft.) depiction of a rocket and its contrail. A poem on the side of the monument declares, “And the reward for our efforts was that, having triumphed over oppression and darkness, we have forged wings of fire for our land and our century!”

Besides a bit of Soviet-style hypocrisy about “oppression and darkness” this poem is spot on. The Soviet Space program achieved a whole series of firsts–first satellite (1957), first animal in space (1957), first probes to Mars (1960) and Venus (1961), first man in space (1961), first woman in space (1963). . .the list goes on and on.

The museum has undergone three years of renovations and reopened on April 12 of this year, which happens to be Cosmonautics Day, celebrating Yuri Gagarin’s historic 1961 flight, the first time a human being ever left Earth. The Soviets put up a very cool statue to him in Moscow’s Gagarin Square, but sadly there’s no photo of it in the Gadling Flickr pool. The first person who puts one up there and tells me by leaving a comment will get a Soviet-era space program postcard as a thank you. You’ll also see the photo on Gadling, so upload your best!

If you want a sneak peek inside the renovated museum, this article (in Spanish) has an interesting slide show.