For millennia, our species looked at the Moon as a place that would forever be beyond our reach, but 20th-century technologies finally made our natural satellite accessible to probes, landers, and even human explorers. Despite these achievements, however, the Moon has furiously resisted our overtures, whether it be these lamentable historical episodes or Japan’s recent failure with its Hakuto-R lander.
In August 1958, some six months after the launch of the first U.S. satellite, the Air Force tried to launch a probe on a flyby mission to the Moon. The mission failed, so the Air Force tried again in September (NASA was still brand-new in 1958, having been founded earlier in the year). The second mission also failed, as did the next two attempts. The Soviet Union tried similar missions at the same time, also experiencing a stream of defeats. Failed launches were the primary culprits, as rocket science was still in its infancy.
These first faltering steps were a sign that treks to the Moon weren’t going to be easy. No doubt, the following years and decades would bear witness to remarkable achievements but also a tremendous number of setbacks. Even today, as we prepare for the Artemis era, our attempts to reach the Moon aren’t always met with success. Here are some of the most notable failed Moon missions from the past 65 years.