The physical exploration of the Moon began when Luna 2, a space probe launched by the Soviet Union, made an impact on the surface of the Moon on September 14, 1959. Prior to that the only available means of exploration had been observation from Earth. The invention of the optical telescope brought about the first leap in the quality of lunar observations. Galileo Galilei is generally credited as the first person to use a telescope for astronomical purposes; having made his own telescope in 1609, the mountains and craters on the lunar surface were among his first observations using it.
NASA’s Apollo program was the first, and to date only, mission to successfully land humans on the Moon, which it did six times. The first landing took place in 1969, when astronauts placed scientific instruments and returned lunar samples to Earth.