January 2, 1959: Trailing orange sodium gas, the Luna 1 spacecraft broke free of Earth’s gravity to head towards the moon.
Some historians believe Luna 1 — a Soviet Union spacecraft — was supposed to hit the moon. It would have been a large coup for the Soviets during the early days of the Space Race with the United States. However, the spacecraft did fly successfully past Earth’s neighbor on January 4, 1959.
And the orange gas? It was supposed to help scientists track the spacecraft and to test the behaviours of gas in space. The 795-pound spacecraft also picked up new data on the Earth’s radiation belt.