Trivia

Hard

Which Spacecraft Was The First To Autonomously Return Extraterrestrial Samples to Earth?

Hayabusa
Stardust
Apollo 11
Luna 16
A model of the Luna 16 autonomous space probe located in the Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow.
Bembmv/Wikimedia

Answer: Luna 16

Sample return missions are spacecraft missions focused on obtaining samples of extraterrestrial materials. By far the most famous sample return mission of all time was the first sample return mission humanity ever engaged in: the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Not only did we put men on the moon, but they brought back approximately 49 pounds of it with them.

While putting humans on the moon and retrieving a sample is a remarkable accomplishment, remarkable in its own right is the achievement of the Luna 16 space mission. Luna 16 was an unmanned space mission in the Soviet Luna program. What is remarkable about Luna 16 is that it was the first time a fully autonomous space launch had successfully gathered and returned an extraterrestrial sample—the Soviets fired a robotic probe into space and that probe returned part of the moon without any further intervention. Launched in September of 1970, the Luna 16 spacecraft orbited the moon, studied lunar gravity, landed on the surface, gathered a sample, and then blasted off towards Earth, ultimately returning a 101-gram (3.6 oz) sample of lunar soil (while the lower stage remained on the lunar surface and continued transmission of lunar temperature and radiation data).

In addition to being the first fully autonomous spacecraft to return an extraterrestrial sample (and the third successful sample return mission ever, following Apollo 11 and Apollo 12), Luna 16 was the first successful sample return mission performed by the Soviet Union. It was also the indirect source of the only private ownership of a lunar sample during the 20th century—in 1993, a sample from the Luna 16 mission was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $442,500.

Other notable sample return missions include NASA’s Stardust spacecraft which, upon returning to Earth in January 2006, was the first spacecraft to return a comet sample in the form of debris from the tail of Comet Wild 2. In June 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported that their Hayabusa probe returned a pristine sample of S-type Asteroid 25143 Itokawa.

Trivia

Very Hard

Which Board Game Has Specific Provisions For The Inclusion Of Smoking?

Trivia

Easy

Nearly Half Of The World’s Gold Supply Has Come From What Single Country?

Trivia

Hard

The Decibel Originated From Methods Used To Measure What?

Trivia

Hard

What Tiny Creatures Live In Old Books And Protect Them From Harm?

Trivia

Very Hard

In America The Game Of Billiards Is Called “Pool” As A Result Of?

Trivia

Hard

The Floppy Disk Icon As A Save Button On Modern Software Is An Example Of A Design Element Called A?

Trivia

Hard

Which Sci-Fi Character’s Name Has Become The Go-To Answer For Nonsensical Questions In France?

Trivia

Hard

The Town Of Castle Rock, Found In Many Stephen King Works, Was Inspired By Which Novel?

Trivia

Hard

During The 20th Century, Blindness In Premature Babies Was Triggered By Excessive Administration Of?

Trivia

Hard

Which Iconic Sci-Fi Film Was Snubbed For An Academy Award Over CGI Effects?