TALLLINE, Estonia — A rocket carrying a Russian lunar lander took off on Friday in hopes of landing on Earth’s natural satellite before an Indian rocket. This Russian launch marks the country’s first lunar mission in nearly 50 years.
The Luna-25-like craft launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East, the first Russian rocket to head for the moon since 1976, when the Soviet Union was in force.
The Russian rover is expected to reach the moon on August 23, at the same time as an Indian rocket launched on July 14.
The Russian rocket will need about five and a half days to approach the moon, then spend three to seven days in orbit before heading to the surface.
Only three countries have achieved successful moon landings: the Soviet Union, the United States, and China. India and Russia aim to be the first to land on the south pole of the moon.
With this mission, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, wants to show that Russia is “a country capable of delivering a payload to the Moon” and wants to “guarantee Russia’s guaranteed access to the lunar surface.”
According to Russian space analyst Vitaly Egorov, the goal of this mission is not to carry out scientific projects on the lunar surface.
“There is a political struggle between two superpowers – China and the United States – and other countries that also want to claim the title of superpower in space.”
The sanctions imposed on Russia since it began its invasion of Ukraine have made it difficult for it to access certain technologies from Western countries, affecting its space program.
Analysts say Luna-25 was originally intended to carry a small rover on the lunar surface, but that idea was scrapped to reduce the vehicle’s weight.
“Foreign electronics are lighter, domestic ones are heavier,” Yegorov explained.
“The scientists’ goal could have been to study the lunar waters, but for Roscosmos the goal is simply to land on the moon. The agency first wants to recover Soviet expertise and learn how to perform this task in a new era.”
In 2019, India first attempted to land on the south pole of the Moon, but its lander eventually crashed into the surface of the natural satellite.
The moon’s south pole is of particular interest to scientists, who believe that some of the permanently shadowed polar craters could hold water. Future space explorers could turn water frozen in rocks into air and fuel for rockets.
“The moon is largely intact and its entire history is written on its surface,” said Ed Plumer, an astronomer at Britain’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
Luna-25 is scheduled to take samples of lunar rocks and dust.
These samples are essential to understanding the moon’s environment before building a permanent base there, Mr. Plumer noted, “otherwise we can build things and have to shut them down after six months because everything has invaded sand.”
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