One of the greatest mysteries of the Russian Space program, the loss of the Lunokhod 1 has been finally solved as lasers from the Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-Ranging Operation finally discovered the location of the long lost Lunar rover after 30 years of silence. The Lunokhod 1 was first sent in 1970 just one year after the Apollo 11 module first landed on the surface of the moon and put the first humans into space. The new discovery is now quite literally shedding light on an enigma that has vexed the space program for years and may result in new breakthroughs in the study of gravity.
The Apache Point Lunar Observatory first picked up an unusual response from the moon just a few days ago when they sent out a powerful laser to the surface and received an unusual signal back. The signal was so powerful that initially scientists thought it may have been an error in their instrumentation. What they discovered, however, was that a robot sent to the Lunar surface to study it in a way very similar to the Mars Rover was at the exact point they were studying. Lunokhod 1 lost contact with the Russian Space Agency’s Lunar Exploration Team less than a year after it landed on the surface. With a intense need to keep up with the American Apollo project the Russians abandoned their interest in the object after losing contact with it and used the funding for other projects. After being discovered after such a long period of time the Lunokhod 1 became quite the conversationalist after more than 30 years. In the first few moments of reestablishing contact with any Earth based platform it sent back over 22,000 packets of information. The response was so intense that scientists on the ground thought it must be a computer error. After a second pulse from the Apache Point Lunar Observatory resulted in new information, scientists confirmed that the information it was receiving was not in error, and that they had unwittingly solved one of the greatest mysteries of the space program.
And now they’re putting the Lunar Rover to good use. Suggesting the platform could still provide important information about the distance from the Earth to the Moon they are hoping this new discovery will either confirm or deny the curvature in space suggested by Einstein’s theory of general relativity and tell us more about what we need to know about gravity to move forward in the scientific field. Even thirty years ago the mirrors of the Lunokhod 1 were designed to give exact data observations – to the milimeter – about the distance between the Earth and Moon. And strangely, though it has been such an incredibly long period of time these mirrors have not collected any dust or degraded in any way. How this is possible is still a mystery to all those involved as all of the other Lunokhod project’s rovers suffered incredible setbacks as a result of their mirrors being covered in dust and degrading over the course of time.