More Moon and Mars

StarDate: September 13, 2009

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The Moon follows the planet Mars across the sky in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. They rise around 2 or 3 o'clock, with Mars to the upper right of the Moon. Mars looks like a fairly bright orange star. They're high in the sky by first light.

Fifty years ago, an object was following the Moon across the sky -- a Soviet spacecraft known as Lunik 2. It slammed into the Moon in the wee hours of September 14th, 1959.

NEWSREEL: Bearing the Soviet coat of arms and hammer-and-sickle pennants, it traveled 35 hours through space. It is the first manmade object to voyage from one cosmic body to another. [:11]

As Lunik plunged toward the lunar surface, its instruments found no evidence of a magnetic field or radiation belts, suggesting that the Moon is a dead world.

As this newsreel suggested, though, its main mission was Cold War politics.

The Space Race with the United States was in full stride, and the Soviets were winning. More important, it was clear that their rockets could loft nuclear warheads all the way from Russia to America. And Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was scheduled to arrive in the United States on September 15th. The successful Moon mission gave the Soviets a big boost in space -- and right here on Earth.

NEWSREEL: In one spectacular, well-timed move, Russia scores a major scientific advance, dramatically demonstrates the accuracy and reliability of its missiles, and gives Khrushchev a propaganda bonus on the eve of his visit to America. Moscow shot for the Moon -- and scored a bull's-eye. [:23]

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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