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1959: World glimpses far side of the Moon
The Soviet Union has revealed the first pictures of the far side of the Moon.

The pictures were taken about three weeks ago from Lunik 3, the Soviet satellite launched on 4 October, and transmitted by radio to the Earth, 300,000 miles (483,000 km) away.

They had not been seen in public until they were shown briefly on the Russian television service's midnight news bulletin.

The far side of the moon, never seen from the Earth as it is always facing away, appears to have many fewer landmarks than the visible side.

It does, however, contain a large "sea", about 185 miles (298 km) in diameter, which the Russians have named the Sea of Moscow.

Major features

In all, eight major features have been identified.

A large bay in the Sea of Moscow has been named Astronauts' Bay, while a crater about 60 miles (96.5 km) across has been named after Professor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Soviet rocket pioneer who died in 1935.

A mountain range near the equator will be known as the Sovietsky Mountains, while a sea near the border of the invisible part of the moon will be known as the Sea of Dreams.

The chairman of the Astronomical Council of the Academy of Sciences, Professor Alexander Mikhailov, told Moscow Radio that the relative monotony of the far side of the moon is "an exciting problem".

"Astronomers and geologists [must] explain this phenomenon which, beyond any doubt, is associated with the question of the origin of the moon's relief."

Third time lucky

In all, 29 pictures were taken by a camera using 35mm film, switched on by remote control from Earth at 0330 GMT on 7 October.

The time was chosen so that Lunik 3 would be between the Sun and the Moon, meaning about 70% of the far side would be lit by the Sun.

Lunik 3 was the latest of several Soviet attempts to photograph the Moon's surface. The first to launch successfully, Lunik 1, missed the Moon and carried on into space.

Lunik 2 was launched just last month and became the first craft from Earth to crash onto the Moon's surface.

Lunik 3's launch date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first man-made craft to orbit the Earth, two years ago.

Its success will be seen as a major propaganda coup by the Soviet Union.

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Far side of the Moon
The first view of the Moon's hidden face (picture courtesy NSSDC)

In Context
The 24 Luna missions (the first few were known as Lunik) were the focus of the Soviet Union's unmanned lunar exploration programme.

Several made history. Luna 9 was the first spacecraft to achieve a controlled landing on the Moon's surface in 1966; Luna 10 was the first to orbit the Moon, while Luna 16 was the first unmanned mission to bring back samples from the Moon's surface.

The relatively low cost of unmanned space missions meant the Soviet Union continued to explore the Moon until 1976, four years after the last American moonwalk.

The naming of features on the far side of the Moon by the Soviet Union was highly controversial.

As a result, responsibility for naming features in space was given to the Paris-based International Astronomical Union, a federation of professional astronomers from around the world.

The name Sea of Dreams is no longer recognised since it was later found to be composed of a smaller sea, named the Sea of Ingenuity, and other dark craters.

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