Russia Launches Moon-Landing Spacecraft in Race to Reach Lunar South Pole

Moscow – Russia made a significant move in space exploration as it launched its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years. The country aims to become the first power to achieve a soft landing on the lunar south pole, a region believed to contain valuable pockets of water ice. The Luna-25 craft was carried into space by a Soyuz 2.1v rocket that took off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, situated 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow, at 0211 Moscow time on Friday.

According to Russia’s space agency, the lander is expected to touch down on the moon on August 23. This lunar mission by Russia is its first since 1976 and is competing against other nations in the race to explore the moon. India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month, is one of Russia’s competitors, along with the United States and China, both of whom have advanced lunar exploration programs.

For centuries, scientists have speculated about the existence of water on the moon, which is significantly drier than the Sahara desert. In 2018, NASA maps confirmed the presence of water ice in the moon’s shadowed areas, and in 2020, it was further confirmed that water existed in the sunlit regions as well.

The lunar south pole, although challenging to land on due to rough terrain, is a highly desired destination for exploration. Scientists believe this region could contain substantial amounts of ice that could be used for various purposes, such as extracting fuel, oxygen, and drinking water.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, stated that the Luna-25 spacecraft will take five days to reach the moon and spend five to seven days in lunar orbit before descending onto one of three potential landing sites near the pole. This timetable suggests that Russia may match or narrowly beat India in reaching the lunar surface. However, the agencies assured that the two missions will not interfere with each other as they have different landing areas planned.

Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled to carry out experiments for two weeks, while Luna-25 will operate on the moon for a year. Luna-25 has a mass of 1.8 tons and is equipped with 31 kg (68 pounds) of scientific instruments. It will use a scoop to collect rock samples from depths of up to 15 cm (6 inches) in order to test for the presence of frozen water that could support human life.

Lev Zeleny, a space researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, described the moon as the “seventh continent of the Earth” and emphasized the importance of exploring and understanding it further.

The launch of Luna-25 was originally planned for October 2021 but has faced delays over the past two years. The European Space Agency initially planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera in collaboration with the Luna-25 project but severed ties after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year.

To ensure safety, residents of a village in Russia’s far east were evacuated from their homes on Friday morning. This precaution was taken due to a “one in a million chance” that one of the rocket stages used in the launch could fall to the earth near the village. The 26 inhabitants of Shakhtinsky were provided with the opportunity to watch the launch and enjoy a free breakfast in a designated location before being able to return home within 3-1/2 hours. Fishermen and hunters in the area were also alerted to the situation.

Russia’s lunar mission represents an important step in the pursuit of space exploration and could potentially unlock crucial information about the moon’s resources and its potential for supporting future human activities.


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