The Wikipedia page Sample-return mission and this answer list Luna 16, 20 and 24 missions as each bringing back of the order of 100 grams of lunar material to Earth, but their Wikipedia pages don't say much about how this was done. There's a graphic which gives the basic idea, but are there better sources and descriptions for how this was done step-by-step?

How was the material identified, collected, and transported to the return capsule, and how was that capsule sealed and readied for spaceflight and reentry?

enter image description here Source

  • $\begingroup$ You might think that answers to How did the Russians get moon rocks? would address this, but they don't. This question is specifically about the mechanisms involved collection and containerizing. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ A simple question has a difficult answer. The main highlight of the object in the invention of a special flight path. Thanks to this trajectory, the entire mission was simplified to the state of "fired and forgotten". Without a correction of flight, the rocket fell from the moon into the USSR territory. goo.gl/mvU3EM $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ @A.Rumlin Interesting book! Which page number should I look at? Feel free to leave another answer here, and you may also have something to add to Trajectory information for Ranger, Luna, and other early Lunar explorers as well. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ Page 88. But one man emerged from the bowels of academia clutching hope. Materializing from the shadows, dusting himself off, Dmitri Okhotsimsky contacted Lavochkin with his game-saving idea. *** He liked math. And one of his major interests happened to be applying it toward the simplification of journeys through space. goo.gl/bsVUyZ $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 6:58

1 Answer 1


Luna 16 diagram

Luna 16 was the first successful robotic probe to return sample from an extraterrestrial location to Earth for analysis. It did not return the first sample, that was done by Apollo 11, but it was the first time humanity successfully sent a robot into space to do such a task.

The illustration above and the text of the following were taken from multiple sources. I have identified them, but the narritive is not entirely clear on the process of how things went from Luna 16 landing, collecting a sample and returning to earth. But it illustrates roughly how it worked.

The ascent stage was a smaller cylinder with a rounded top. It carried a cylindrical hermetically sealed soil sample container inside a re-entry capsule. The spacecraft descent stage was equipped with a television camera, radiation and temperature monitors, telecommunications equipment, and an extendable arm with a drilling rig for the collection of a lunar soil sample.

The article goes on to say:

The drill was deployed and penetrated to a depth of 35 cm before encountering hard rock or large fragments of rock. The column of regolith in the drill tube was then transferred to the soil sample container. After 26 hours and 25 minutes on the lunar surface, the ascent stage, with the hermetically sealed soil sample container, lifted off from the Moon carrying 101 grams of collected material at 07:43 UT on 21 September.

From www.lpi.usra.edu:

There appear to be two chambers involved - an initial processing cabinet (or vacuum tank) and a round examination cabinet. Samples were processed in an inert gas (N2?) to protect them from moisture, oxygen, and contamination.

NASA goes on to say:

The lower stage of Luna 16 remained on the lunar surface and continued transmission of lunar temperature and radiation data. The Luna 16 re-entry capsule returned directly to Earth without any mid-course corrections, made a ballistic entry into the Earth's atmosphere on 24 September and deployed parachutes. The capsule landed approximately 80 km SE of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 03:26 UT.

Luna 16 lunar sample:

Luna 16 lunar sample

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    $\begingroup$ I believe it was a flexible sample tube from the drill that coiled up into the return capsule. But where did I see that.... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I found a diagram that illustrates how it works. $\endgroup$
    – gwally
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ That picture doesn't match the text which talks about a drill. It shows a scoop. Maybe a different vehicle. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Sergei Korolev never ran any of this by me. Maybe because I wasn't born yet? ;) I am very fascinated by the entire Soviet and US space programs and I'm always looking up details to better have an idea how everything happened. $\endgroup$
    – gwally
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @gwally if you don't already know about it, there's russianspaceweb.com and it has a page for Luna 24 you may find helpful: russianspaceweb.com/luna24.html The mechanism looks a lot more complicated than the image you show. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:52

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