Russia Launches Luna-25 Spacecraft to Search for Water on the Moon

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Russia made a significant leap towards lunar exploration by launching its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years. The Luna-25 craft aims to be the first to make a soft landing on the lunar south pole, an area believed to contain valuable reservoirs of water ice.

The Russian lunar mission, the first since 1976, faces competition from India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander recently. Additionally, the United States and China have advanced lunar exploration programs targeting the same region.

The Luna-25 spacecraft, carried by a Soyuz 2.1v rocket, took off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, heading towards the moon. The lander is expected to touch down on August 21, according to Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.

The primary goal of Luna-25, which is about the size of a small car, is to operate for a year on the moon’s south pole. This region has been identified by NASA and other space agencies as having traces of water ice in its shadowed craters.

The success of the Luna-25 mission carries significant implications. Despite Western sanctions targeted at Russia’s aerospace sector, the Kremlin believes this lunar endeavor will demonstrate the failure to cripple the Russian economy. Furthermore, it highlights Russia’s growing independence in space exploration after severed ties with the West due to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The European Space Agency’s involvement in the project was impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to the termination of their collaboration with Luna-25. Asif Siddiqi, a history professor at Fordham University, believes Russia’s moon aspirations extend beyond science, serving as an expression of national power on the global stage.

While U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong is famous for being the first person to walk on the moon in 1969, the Soviet Union’s Luna-2 mission achieved the first spacecraft landing on the moon’s surface in 1959, followed by the Luna-9 mission’s soft landing in 1966. Russia shifted its focus to Mars exploration after these milestones, and since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has not sent scientific probes beyond earth’s orbit.

Major world powers, including the United States, China, India, Japan, and the European Union, have been exploring the moon in recent years. Japan’s lunar landing and an Israeli mission both failed. Landing on the moon’s south pole is particularly challenging due to its rough terrain, but the potential discovery of water ice holds great significance. Large water reservoirs could be used for extracting fuel and oxygen, as well as serving as a source of drinking water.

The Luna-25 mission aims to land in an untouched area and will spend five to seven days in lunar orbit before descending to one of three potential landing sites near the pole. This timeline implies that Luna-25 could match or even surpass its Indian rival, Chandrayaan-3, in reaching the moon’s surface. Chandrayaan-3 is set to conduct experiments for two weeks.

Weighing 1.8 tons and equipped with 31 kg (68 pounds) of scientific equipment, Luna-25 will use a scoop to collect rock samples from a depth of up to 15 cm (6 inches) for testing the presence of frozen water. The successful completion of this mission would mark a significant milestone for Russian space exploration and advance our understanding of the moon’s resources.

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