NASA launched Lunar Orbiter Program in an effort to map Moon's surface, choose landing spots for Apollo missions and acquire images for landing simulator. Did USSR have similar program? Luna 12 seems to fit the criteria but it was only one mission. Were there any other attempts?

  • $\begingroup$ There were a bunch of Lunas, some were landers and some orbiters. I think there were at least 3 or 4 orbiter missions that were successful. I don't know if any of them was specifically designed to pick a landing spot. $\endgroup$
    – ventsyv
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think the Soviets hard-landed (deliberate crash) a probe onto the moon before the U.S. $\endgroup$
    – Joe L.
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 22:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JoeL. Pretty sure that is the exact opposite of an orbiter. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ The Luna program was the closest parallel to the Lunar Orbiter Program. I assume, since you linked the Wikipedia article for Luna 12, that you read about the Luna program on Wikipedia. What exactly is missing there that you are looking for? If you're looking for a specific reference to a Soviet orbiter that mapped sites for manned landings, you're not going to find one. Any of the Luna orbiters could have been used for that purpose, though. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Well, I was looking for more info on soviet imaging of Moon's surface from orbit, found only a few images from Luna 12. I guess their bad luck with launching is the main factor for that. $\endgroup$
    – mark.g
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


I am assuming that the point of the question is Soviet imaging of the Moon, and not strictly lunar orbiters.

There were, in fact, two Soviet programs which included spacecraft with the task of imaging Moon's surface. First was the Luna program, which you found yourself. In this program, the stations that managed to get images of the Moon from the orbit were Luna-3 (quite low-quality images of the far side), Luna-12 (the ones you saw), Luna-16 (it was a sample-retrieval mission, but it sent several photos taken during the flight) and Luna-22. Several other craft, for example, Luna-11, failed to achieve the right orientation and ended up with their cameras pointing away from the Moon.

Second was the Zond program. Spacecraft of this series were testbeds for several other programs, but several of them did a flyby of the Moon.

You can find photos of the Moon taken by Luna- and Zond-series Soviet spacecraft here (most photos need to be clicked to get the full image). Sadly, most of Soviet archives are still hardcopy-only and there are no official online repositories.


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