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CHRONOLOGY - Five key dates in the race to the moon

Storm clouds are seen covering the full moon over Malta in this September 15, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files

Reuters - India launched its first unmanned lunar mission on Wednesday joining China and India in a race among Asian nations to explore the lunar surface.

Here are some key dates in lunar exploration.

-- Jan. 2, 1959: Sphere-shaped Soviet spacecraft Luna 1 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit the moon. A series of similarly successful Soviet launches follow, with Luna 2 becoming the first manmade craft to crash into the moon on Sept. 14, 1959.

-- April 26, 1962: The U.S. spacecraft Ranger 4, designed to transmit pictures of the moon’s surface back to earth before impacting the surface, becomes the first U.S. spacecraft to crash into the moon. An onboard computer failure causes it to impact the far side of the moon without returning any scientific data.

-- Feb. 3, 1966: The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 makes the world’s first soft landing on the moon’s surface in the Ocean of Storms. It is also the first to transmit photographic data back to earth, providing a panoramic view of the moon’s surface.

-- July 20, 1969: U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin land on the moon. Armstrong, the first to set foot on the lunar surface, broadcast the message, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Twelve astronauts walked on the moon in the U.S. space agency’s Apollo programme, the last in 1972.

-- Jan. 24, 1990: A cylindrical Japanese spacecraft, Hiten, carries a small satellite into space to test and verify technologies for future missions to the moon and planets. It is intentionally crashed into the lunar surface on April 10, 1993. Japan returns to the moon in 2007, with the Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE).