Russia has achieved a significant milestone in space exploration by successfully launching its inaugural moon-landing spacecraft after a gap of 47 years. The primary objective of the moon mission is to achieve a gentle landing on the lunar south pole, a region believed to contain valuable reservoirs of water ice.
The recent lunar mission from Russia is in competition with India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander to space last month. This race is part of a larger global competition involving the United States and China, both of which have well-established lunar exploration initiatives focused on the moon’s southern region.
The launch of the Luna-25 spacecraft took place from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, located 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow. A Soyuz 2.1v rocket was used for the successful launch, which occurred at 2:11 a.m. Moscow time on Friday (1111 GMT on Thursday).
According to Yuri Borisov, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, the lunar lander is expected to make contact with the Moon’s surface on August 21, slightly differing from the earlier projected landing date of August 23.
The Luna-25 spacecraft, about the size of a small car, is designed to operate on the moon’s south pole for approximately one year. This region has gained attention due to the detection of traces of water ice in the shadowed craters by scientists at NASA and other space agencies.
The success of this lunar moon mission holds significance for Russia, particularly in the context of Western sanctions imposed due to the Ukraine conflict. The mission also showcases Russia’s growing self-reliance in space exploration, a strategy that gained momentum after reduced collaborations with Western nations following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
The moon mission is not only a technological endeavor but also serves as an expression of national power on the global stage for Russia. Historian Asif Siddiqi notes that Russia’s aspirations toward the moon are intertwined with various factors.
While Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk gained global recognition in 1969, the Soviet Union’s Luna-2 mission in 1959 was the first spacecraft to reach the moon’s surface, and Luna-9 achieved the first soft landing in 1966. With this lunar mission, Russia is redirecting its focus toward lunar exploration after a period of concentrating on Mars and refraining from launching probes beyond Earth’s orbit since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Luna-25 spacecraft’s departure from Earth’s orbit was anticipated to occur around 3:30 a.m. Moscow time. This achievement marks a significant step in Russia’s reinvigorated space exploration endeavors.