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The crew of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (NASA).

Recording of Russia's lunar gatecrash attempt released

3 July 2009

Copyright: © Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester

Dramatic and previously unheard recordings of the moment the Russians tried to gatecrash the American's Moon landing in 1969 have today been released by The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

The recordings were made in the Control Room of the famous Jodrell Bank Observatory, where astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell and colleagues were listening to transmissions coming from the moon.

They were buried in the archives until astronomers at Jodrell Bank started researching material to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings.

In July 1969 the telescopes at Jodrell Bank were tracking the American's Eagle Lander carrying astronauts onto the surface of the Moon.

At the same time Jodrell Bank scientists were also tracking the unmanned Soviet spacecraft Luna 15, which was trying to land on the Moon, collect samples of lunar soil and rock and then return to Earth to scoop the US Apollo 11 mission.

The data captured by the Lovell radio telescope revealed this rocket orbited the Moon and crash-landed onto its surface at 15:50 on 21st July - just a few hours before the Americans lifted off from the Moon's surface.

In the newly released recordings, which were made over three days in mid-July of 1969, Sir Bernard Lovell - founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory and the man behind the famous Lovell radio telescope - can be heard narrating events. Transmissions from the Apollo 11 astronauts can also be heard in the background.

Sir Bernard notes a change in the orbit of Luna 15 to take it closer to the US landing site and later reports a rumour from a 'well-informed source in Moscow' that the craft is about to land.

People in the Control Room can then be heard exclaiming 'it's landing' and 'it's going down much too fast' as they track Luna 15's final moments before it crashes.

A voice is later heard saying: "I say, this has really been drama of the highest order."

Read an interview with Sir Bernard Lovell in The Times newspaper about the events captured in these recordings.

Moonbounce - Sunday July 19th

On Sunday 19 July the Jodrell Bank Observatory will hold a special Moonbounce event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing.

A competition is currently being run to allow people to hear their own voices returning to Earth from the Moon - by suggesting words they would have used instead of Neil Armstrong's immortal line 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind'.

Entries can be made at the Governement's Science: [So what, So Everything] campaign website. All entries must be submitted by 12pm on Sunday 12 July 2009.

As five lucky winners of the Moonbounce competition read out their messages, their words will be turned into radio signals by Jodrell Bank scientists, transmitted towards the Moon and reflected off its surface.

After travelling through space at the speed of light, the returning signals will be caught just a few seconds later using the giant Lovell Telescope. The winners will be able to hear their own voices echoing back to Earth from the surface of the Moon, a quarter of a million miles away.

The special event begins at 12 noon and will include presentations by special guests, including Professor Colin Pillinger - one of the few Britons who worked on the Apollo programme - and Sir Bernard Lovell. There will also be exclusive messages from Buzz Aldrin and Professor Stephen Hawking.

Other activities during the celebratory event include discussion of Jodrell Bank's role in the Space Race, special showings of archive video footage about the Moon landings, rocket workshops for kids and planetarium shows.

Tickets for the event on 19 July are now available (4 for adults; 2 for children and concessions) and can be purchased by calling the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre on 01477 571339.

Further details are on the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre website.

Notes to editors

For media opportunities contact Alex Waddington, Media Relations Officer, The University of Manchester, email alex.waddington@manchester.ac.uk, Tel 0161 275 8387 or 07717 881569.