January 2, 1959. Trailing orange sodium gas, the Luna 1 spacecraft broke free of Earth’s gravity on this date, 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. It zoomed past the moon at a distance of 6,400 km (3,977 miles) and eventually became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around our sun (a heliocentric orbit).
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.
Bottom line: On January 2, 1959, the Luna 1 spacecraft broke free of Earth’s gravity on this date, heading towards the moon.