The Luna 9 ‘Space Hack’ – 4th Feb 1966

This week we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the audacious ‘Space Hack’ carried out at Jodrell Bank on 4th Feb 1966.

Jodrell Bank was deeply involved in monitoring the early space race between the USA and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was far out in the lead with its Luna Programme and in February 1966 was successful in making the first ‘soft landing’ (as opposed to a ‘crash landing’) on the surface of the Moon with the ‘Luna 9’ space probe.

On landing, the craft unfurled to reveal a camera which allowed it to photograph of the surface of the Moon (this was a time well before the invention of the digital camera). The probe encoded the image in the style of early ‘fax’ technology and beamed the resulting signal back to Earth using a radio transmitter.

The signal was intended to reach the space programme team in the Soviet Union. However, the team at Jodrell Bank picked up the signal and someone recognised it as the signal for a fax machine. These were quite rare at the time, but eventually someone managed to borrow the right equipment (some from Manchester and some from London) from the offices of the Daily Express newspaper.

It’s hard to imagine how exciting it would have been to see the first picture sent from the surface of another celestial body appearing from the fax machine printer.

Of course, the Daily Express celebrated this remarkable image across its front page (and several other pages) in its publication the following day.

This week we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the happening with a series of events at Jodrell Bank. At the heart of these – in pride of place in our new Star Pavilion –  is the exhibition of the original fax machine, on loan to us from our friends at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

Alongside it, we have both an edition of the original newspaper and a collection of some of the amazing photographs and film from the time.

For families, we have created an amazing activity (popular also amongst our staff….) based on a 5metre wide vinyl print out of the latest image of the Moon’s surface created by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which is a spectacular object  – and a whole story in itself). Visitors can walk on the surface of the Moon and place flags at the location of all the Moon missions which have landed (rather than crashed) on the Moon since Luna 9.

             

And on Thursday (the day of the 50th Anniversary of the ‘Space Hack’) we are hosting one of our Heritage Lecture Series (already sold out) where our very own Professor Tim O’Brien will tell the story, alongside some of the colleagues who were here at Jodrell Bank at the time.

Next weekend (6th and 7th Feb), our Star Pavilion will be open for families once again – the last chance to see the original ‘Space Hack’ fax machine this time.

Blogger: Dr Teresa Anderson MBE is Director of Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.

The heritage work at Jodrell Bank is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of our ‘First Light at Jodrell Bank’ project.