Reported in the News Letter on January 3, 1959: Moscow Radio reveals Soviet moon rocket bid

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A Russian rocket is on its way to the moon, the area of which it is expected to reach tomorrow morning, Moscow Radio announced last night.

The rocket, according to the announcement, weighs one ton, 16cwt., one lb, including fuel and instruments. Moscow Radio said that it was sending radio signals back to Earth on a number of frequencies. Recordings of the signals were broadcast by the radio.

It was stated that the rocket, which is called “Planet III”, had been fired yesterday to mark the 21st Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, opening in Moscow on January 27.

In Washington, a United States Defence Department spokesman said that they had received advance notice of the Russian launching.

The first public reaction in Britain came from Professor ACB Lovell, director of the giant radio-telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, who said: “I am a little surprised, I must say. I got the impression when I was in Moscow that they had no immediate intention to do this.”

The United States has launched four “lunar probe” rockets so far – two failures and two near misses.

The Moscow announcement said: “The cosmic rocket is carrying pennants with the coat of arms of the USSR and the inscription ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, January, 1959’.”

Dr E M Lindsay (director of Armagh Observatory), commenting last night on the Soviet moon rocket, said that it was too early yet to comment on the possibilities of success as his knowledge of the situation was based entirely on the radio bulletins.

It was obvious, however, he said, that the Russians were very confident, but that, of course, was characteristic of all their experiments in this field.

[Luna 1, as it later became known, passed within 5,995 km of the Moon’s surface on January 4. It went into orbit around the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.]