Countries that have landed on the moon

April 25, 2024

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The moon

Each year, governments across the world spend billions of dollars on space exploration. In 2023, the US alone spent $73 billion on space programs. 

There are many reasons why countries invest so much in space programs. As well as giving us a better understanding of the universe we live in, space exploration can help ensure the future survival of humanity. Moon landing missions are particularly important in that they can teach us how to live in space and utilize the resources we need more of on Earth, such as water and isotope helium-3.

To date, only a handful of countries have landed on the moon. Some of these have been soft landings — where the spacecraft touches down slowly without causing any damage — and some have been hard landings. Also called “crash landings”, hard landings are when there is a greater impact between the craft and the lunar surface. Hard landings are either done intentionally — for example, if a craft has already fulfilled its purpose — or because a soft landing has failed. So far, most moon landings have been unmanned.

How many countries have landed on the moon?

Only five of the world’s countries have achieved a soft lunar landing. They are:

  • Russia
  • United States
  • China
  • India
  • Japan

Continue reading to find out more about when these countries first landed on the moon and which spacecraft were manned. 

Russia

Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) was the first country to land on the moon. On September 13, 1959, the unmanned Luna 2 spacecraft successfully impacted the moon with a hard landing. 

The country was also responsible for the first successful soft landing, thanks to the Luna 9 probe — again unmanned — which touched down slowly on February 3, 1966. It was during this mission that the first photographs were taken from the surface of another celestial body. In total, the probe captured a total of nine images of the moon’s surface (photographs were also taken during the country’s Luna 13 mission in December 1966.) Two months later, on April 3, 1966, Russia’s Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the moon.

Russia was also the first country to send lifeforms from Earth to the moon. On September 14, 1968, Zond 5 carried two tortoises and other life forms to and around the moon in preparation for crewed missions.

On September 24, 1970, Russia took the top spot again, this time for successfully retrieving lunar soil samples via its Luna 16 return spacecraft. The country also deployed the first robotic rover onto the surface of the moon, launching the Luna 17 on November 10, 1970. Again, these missions were unmanned.

United States

In response to Russia’s achievements in 1959, the US made four failed attempts to land on the moon before finally succeeding in 1962. Ranger 4 was launched on April 23, and three days later, it became the first spacecraft to impact the moon’s far side.

Just four months after Russia’s first soft landing, the US achieved its first soft landing. Surveyor 1 touched down gently on June 2, 1966, returning data until it ran out of power on July 13. 

The US has gone on to become the country with the most soft landings, and it is the only country in the world that has landed people on the moon.

The first crewed moon mission was Apollo 11. The spacecraft, carrying three men, was launched on July 20, 1969. Just over six and a half hours after its launch, Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the surface of the moon. Between 1969 and 1972, the US had six successful crewed moon landings. To date, only 12 people have landed on the moon. The most recent person to walk on the moon is Gene Cernan, the Commander of Apollo 17.

China

On March 1, 2009, China impacted the moon with its Chang’e 1 lunar-orbiting spacecraft. However, the country didn’t land on the moon until 2013, when its Chang’e 3 touched down on December 14. This was the first moon landing since 1976. 

China may have landed on the moon more than half a century after Russia and the US, but it was the first country to make a soft landing on the far side of the moon. On January 3, 2019, Chang’e 4 touched down on the moon’s far side. On this mission, cottonseeds sprouted in the spacecraft, making China the first country to grow plants on the moon.

India

India first impacted the moon four months before China with its Chandrayaan-1 moon impact probe, which struck the lunar south pole on November 14, 2008. India was the first country to impact the moon’s south pole.

On August 23, 2023, India became the fourth nation to make a successful soft landing on the moon. When the Chandrayaan-3 touched down, it became the first spacecraft to land softly near the moon’s south pole. 

Japan

Japan became the third country to reach the surface of the moon when its Hiten spacecraft deorbited and impacted the moon on April 10, 1993.

However, it was another three decades before the country landed on the moon. On January 19, 2024, Japan successfully soft-landed its SLIM spacecraft, making it the fifth country to land on the moon.

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