After a pause of 47 years, Russia has successfully launched its pioneering lunar probe, setting its sights on the moon’s water-rich south pole. This ambitious mission seeks to accomplish a smooth touchdown on the lunar surface, with the southern region gaining prominence for its potential water ice deposits.
This significant lunar endeavor, marking Russia’s first since 1976, coincides with India’s recent Chandrayaan-3 launch. As the space race intensifies, the global community watches closely with the U.S. and China also ardently advancing their lunar explorations, particularly focusing on the invaluable lunar south pole.
On Thursday, at 2:11 am Moscow time (1111 GMT), the Luna-25 probe, aboard a Soyuz 2.1v rocket, began its journey from the Vostochny cosmodrome, located 3,450 miles east of Moscow. Despite an initial scheduled landing on August 23, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, now anticipates a touchdown on August 21, with Yuri Borisov, the agency’s head, expressing optimism for a precise and smooth landing.
If successful, the Luna-25, approximately the dimensions of a compact car, will commence a year-long exploration of the moon’s intriguing south pole. Recent discoveries by NASA and other global agencies of water ice within the area’s shadowed craters have heightened the scientific curiosity.
However, the Luna-25’s significance extends beyond scientific pursuits. The Kremlin views this mission as a symbolic response to Western sanctions related to the Ukrainian crisis. While these sanctions targeted Russia’s aerospace sector, they haven’t significantly impacted the nation’s economy. Moreover, following Russia’s 2022 involvement in Ukraine, space collaborations between Russia and the West have seen a decline, leaving the International Space Station as one of the few collaboration points.
Asif Siddiqi, a renowned history professor at Fordham University, opined that Russia’s revived lunar aspirations encompass more than just scientific discovery, reflecting their ambitions on a global scale.
While many remember Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk in 1969, it was the Soviet Union that marked its lunar milestones much earlier. Luna-2 was the first to touch the lunar surface in 1959, and Luna-9 achieved the first soft moon landing in 1966.
Post-1991, after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Russia shifted its focus toward Mars, halting interplanetary missions for some time.