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Russia Launches Luna-25 In Mission For Soft Landing On Moon’s South Pole

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Russia launched its first moon-landing spacecraft on Friday. The feat marked a 47 years gap from the last launch. The spacecraft is bound for a soft landing on south pole where it is believed water in the form of ice exists.

Russia aims to lead its lunar mission ahead of India, which launched Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander late July. However, the competition is not only with India, but more importantly with China and the United States which have progressed their lunar missions way ahead of Russia. The US and China both are aiming for touching south pole.

At 2:11 a.m. Moscow time (1111 GMT on Thursday), a Soyuz 2.1 rocket carrying the Luna-25 spacecraft launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome, 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow.

Over an hour later, the lander was propelled out of Earth’s orbit towards the moon, at which time mission control assumed control of the craft, according to Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.

Yuri Borisov, Russia’s space commander, predicted that the lander will land on the moon on August 21, despite the space agency’s earlier prediction of August 23. Talking to the workers after the launch, Yuri Borisov said, “Now we will wait for the 21st. I hope that a highly precise soft landing on the moon will take place. We hope to be first.”

The Luna-25 spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, will attempt to spend a year operating on the moon’s south pole, where researchers from NASA and other space agencies have recently found signs of water ice in the area’s dark craters.

There is a lot riding on the Luna-25 mission because, according to the Kremlin, the Western sanctions enacted in response to the Ukraine crisis, many of which targeted Moscow’s aerospace industry, have not succeeded in weakening the Russian economy.

Since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine broke practically all of Moscow’s space relations with the West, even with its crucial position on the International Space Station, the moonshot, which Russia has been planning for decades, will also test the country’s growing independence in space.

Professor of history at Fordham University Asif Siddiqi told Reuters, “Russia’s aspirations towards the moon are mixed up in a lot of different things. I think first and foremost, it’s an expression of national power on the global stage.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the  European Space Agency cut off its tie up with the former’s project wherein it had planned to attach its Pilot-D navigation camera in order to test it.

Although Soviet Union’s Luna-2 mission was the first spacecraft to reach the moon’s surface in 1959 and the Luna-9 mission in 1966 was the first to accomplish a soft landing there, American astronaut Neil Armstrong won fame in 1969 for becoming the first human to walk on the moon.

After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow concentrated on exploring Mars, but since then, Russia has not launched any scientific missions outside of Earth orbit.

Astronomers have long pondered the existence of water on the moon, which is 100 times drier than the Sahara. NASA maps from 2018 showed water ice in the moon’s shadowy regions, and in 2020 the agency confirmed that there is existence of water in the moon’s bright regions.

Moon Missions have been sent by major nations including the United States, China, India, Japan, and the European Union have all recently to research on moon in the last few years. Both an Israeli mission in 2019 and a Japanese lunar landing attempt last year were unsuccessful.

On the south pole, no nation has successfully soft-landed. 2019 saw the failure of the Indian Chandrayaan-2 mission.

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