On this day in 1968, Zond 5 was launched from the earth. It then flew around the moon and came back to earth seven days after its launch. On board where a number of biological specimen, specifically two Russian tortoises. Everyone survived the journey. It’s very cool. The space program is great and I’m glad that it isn’t quite as politicized as it once was. (Although it still is.)
But this mission actually has a special meaning to me. I discussed my favorite joke when I was a kid in a recent article, My Solution for Saving the Racist Joke. It has to do with astronauts from different countries discussing what great things they’ve done. The Russian says, “We were the first in space.” But when I was a kid, that was not how I told the joke. I said, “We were the first to orbit the Moon.” Because, you know how it was: everything was about the Moon then. I thought about this when I saw this was the anniversary of the Zond 5 launch.
Technically, the Luna 10 was the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon. And Zond 5 didn’t get into a stable orbit around the Moon. But it had tortoises. And it came back home. It also shows how close the Soviet Union was to beating us to the Moon. Of course, landing on the Moon is primarily a big deal to us because we did it. If it had been the Soviet Union, we would tend to put less emphasis on it. As it is, landing on the Moon was just one step of many in our exploration of space. And by “our,” I mean humanity’s.