How many countries have been to the moon?
Last Updated: January 26, 2024
Since the moon is our closest celestial neighbour, it has naturally been the main target for many space missions completed by a few countries from around the world. Moon exploration has come a long way since Russia’s first lunar probe reached the Moon, or since the first American astronaut set foot on its surface. We are now approaching the beginning of a new era where mankind could start building a colony on the moon within the next couple of decades.
This requires close international collaboration where countries can share resources, technologies and experiences on the ground. But so far, how many countries have successfully completed a mission to the moon?
To date, 11 space agencies have managed to send spacecraft to the Moon (whether it be landers, orbiters, impactors or just flybys). The list includes:
- The Soviet Union,
- United States,
- South Korea,
- United Arab Emirates,
- and the European Union represented by the European Space Agency.
Which countries have been to the moon?
The USA - 32 completed missions
The United States undoubtedly won the space race. NASA made history during the Apollo 11 mission when the first-ever man walked on the moon in 1969. The United States has made a major contribution to human exploration of the Moon through the Apollo programme.
Between 1964 (Ranger 7) and 2018 (TESS flyby), 32 missions were carried out by the United States. Of these missions, 6 were manned missions: Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 for a total of 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon. NASA is planning humanity’s return to the moon in 2024 through the Artemis program. We hope to see the first woman walk on the moon within the next few years…
Moon rover being used during the Apollo 15 mission.
The Soviet Union - 23 completed missions
The Soviet Space Program was the first organisation to have reached the moon with the Luna 2 spacecraft in 1959. It was the 6th attempt by the Soviets to impact the moon, which demonstrates the will and motivation they had to achieve this feat at the time. Many believe that this event was the main trigger for the real start of the space race.
The Soviet space program was indeed a pioneer in space exploration and many of their cosmonauts became famous, such as Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova. In total, the USSR has carried out 23 missions to the Moon, but to date, it has never landed a cosmonaut on the Moon’s surface.
China - 7 completed missions
The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) began in 2007 with the launch of the Chang’e 1 lunar probe. The main objective of the mission was to create a super-accurate 3D map of the moon. In December 2019, China became the third country to make a soft landing on the moon, thanks to the “Yutu” rover.
In total, China has completed 7 lunar missions and plans to send humans to the moon around 2030. The most notable mission was Chang’e 4: the rover/lander that made a historic landing on the far side of the Moon in January 2019, where no humans or robots had ever been before.
Chang’e 4 landing on the moon. Courtesy: CLEP / CNSA
Japen – 3 succesful missions
Japan’s first lunar probe was called HITEN (translate to Celestial Maiden) and was sent in January 1990! Its mission was to deliver a little satellite called Hagoromo near the moon as well as testing different technologies designed for lunar and planetary exploration.
A second mission to the moon was completed by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2007. A three-part spacecraft named SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) orbited the moon for a little more than a year and a half while studying its origin, its surface, its geology, and its gravity.
The Japanese Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission successfully landed on the Moon’s surface around 12:20 a.m. JST on January 20, 2024. This makes Japan the fifth country to achieve a successful soft lunar landing. The SLIM mission, often referred to as the ‘Moon Sniper’, aimed to demonstrate precision landing capabilities with an accuracy of less than 100 meters, enhancing the scientific value of future lunar missions.
The initial descent was smooth until an unexpected loss of thrust occurred approximately 50 meters from the surface, likely causing the lander to adopt its current upside-down posture, which you can see in the below image.
Image Credit: JAXA
Luxembourg - 1 completed mission
2014 – Luxembourg based private company “LuxSpace” launched a small briefcase-sized probe onboard a Chinese Long Mark rocket. The probe executed a close flyby around the moon and then crashed on the lunar surface. LuxSpace’s aim was to increase public interest in space exploration and promote its microsatellite approach to space missions.
The Manfred Memorial Moon Mission (4M) is the first privately funded mission to the moon.
European Union - 1 completed mission
2003 – SMART-1 was a small probe designed and built by the Swedish Space Corporation on behalf of the European Space Agency. The mission’s objective was to test new technologies such as solar-electric propulsion and communication techniques. After orbiting the moon for 3 years, the spacecraft was then crashed into the surface, ending its 3 years mission.
India – 2 succesfull missions
Chandrayaan-1 was the very first lunar probe sent by India back in 2008. Its main goals were to gather more information about the moon’s geology and topography. The mission lasted for 10 months and played an instrumental role in the discovery of water molecules on the moon
The successful soft landing of Chandrayaan-3’s moon lander, Vikram, on the Moon marked a significant milestone for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and India as a whole. This achievement placed India among the elite group of countries capable of conducting soft landings on the lunar surface, joining the ranks of the United States, Russia, and China.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is especially notable for its landing location near the Moon’s South Pole, a region that has not been explored by previous missions from other countries. This area is of particular interest to scientists due to the potential presence of water ice in permanently shadowed craters, which could be crucial for future lunar exploration and long-term missions.
The Vikram lander on the lunar surface. Image Credit: ISRO
Italy - 1 completed mission
2022 – ArgoMoon is a CubeSat launched on Artemis 1, the first mission of NASA’s Space Launch System, on November 16, 2022. Its primary objective was to take images of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, following Orion’s separation, to demonstrate the ability of a CubeSat to conduct precise proximity maneuvers in deep space.
Israël - 1 completed mission
2019 – Beresheet was a co-joined mission between SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries. The mission goal was simply to promote interest in space exploration among the younger generations.
The spacecraft carried a “time capsule” consisting of over 30 million pages of data, including a copy of the English-language Wikipedia, the Torah, and a children’s book inspired by the space launch, as well as genetic samples and tardigrades added at the last minute.
South Korea - 1 completed mission
2022 – The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), also known as Danuri, is a technology demonstrator mission launched by South Korea on August 4, 2022, aboard a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. Its mission was to survey and survey lunar resources, such as water ice and helium-3, produce a topographic map, and aid in the selection of future lunar landing sites.
United Arab Emirates - 1 completed mission
2023 – In late 2022, a lunar rover was sent by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) to the Moon aboard ispace’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander. Unfornatunaly, they lost contact with the rover shortly after its scheduled landing time. After 24 hours of investigation, they were not able to re-establish contact and called the premature end of the mission.
Although the mission was not successful, I feel that the UAE should be part of this list as they did technically put their rover on the Moon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which country was the first to reach the moon?
The Soviet Union was the very first political union to reach the moon with the spacecraft “Luna 2” in 1959. A historic feat that probably helped trigger the space race between Russia and the United States.
How many countries have landed humans on the moon?
To date, only one country has succeeded in landing humans on the moon: the United States of America. As part of the Apollo space program, the United States has landed a total of 12 astronauts.
How many countries have made a soft landing on the moon?
So far, only five countries have succeeded in soft-landing a spacecraft on the moon: the United States of America, Russia, China, India and more recently, Japan.
Space exploration has been a fascinating subject for me since a very young age. As a child, astronauts were my heroes, so it was inevitable that a part of my website would be dedicated to astronauts and their space missions.