scorecardRussia is racing to beat the US, India, and China to the south pole of the moon in its first lunar mission since the 70s
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Russia is racing to beat the US, India, and China to the south pole of the moon in its first lunar mission since the 70s

Marianne Guenot   

Russia is racing to beat the US, India, and China to the south pole of the moon in its first lunar mission since the 70s
LifeScience3 min read
  • Russia launched its first mission to the moon since 1976 on Thursday.
  • If successful, it could be the first to do a soft landing on the south pole of the moon.

Russia is on its way to the moon for the first time in almost 50 years, and aims to be the first to soft land on the coveted south pole of our satellite, beating the US, China, and others to the punch.

Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, launched the Luna-25 mission on Friday morning from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, Reuters reported. The last one was in 1976.

The Soyuz-2.1b rocket is carrying a lander, which Roscosmos will try to land on the south pole of the moon on August 21, Reuters reported.

If successful, it would be the first mission to achieve a soft landing on the south pole of the moon, and the robotic lander would collect crucial information over the next year. A soft landing is one in which the lander doesn't explode.

But these are risky missions with a tendency to fail.

The south pole is a crucial strategic objective

Russia isn't the only nation vying for the south pole. The region has a crucial strategic scientific and commercial pull in the near future.

"The moon is the seventh continent of the Earth so we are simply 'condemned', as it were, to tame it," said Lev Zeleny, a space researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, per Reuters.

The Luna-25 lander will be collecting and analyzing regolith, the soil that covers the moon, to better understand its properties and test for traces of water, per Reuters.

But the Russian mission's "most important task, to put it simply, is to sit where no one has sat," said Maxim Litvak, chief scientist for the mission from Russia's Space Research Institute. The comment was in a blog post on the institute's website, per space.com.

Both the US and China, in collaboration with Russia, aim to build lunar stations in that area within the decade.

The south pole's main attraction is water, a resource that's been found peppered around the area and could be mined to extract fuel for moon missions or rockets on their way to Mars.

A few research missions are aiming to collect more information about the resources available on the moon.

China plans to send a rover there in 2026, and NASA also aims to send its VIPER rover and drill to the surface.

Russia's biggest competition today is India, whose Chandrayaan-3 mission has been orbiting the moon since August 6.

However, just because Russia and India have launched their missions doesn't mean they'll be successful. Soft landings can be particularly tricky, as shown by a recent mission from a Japanese private company ispace, which crashed on the surface of the moon in April.

Asked if Russia was concerned about India's mission interfering with their own, Roscosmos told Reuters: "There is no danger that they interfere with each other or collide. There is enough space for everyone on the moon," it said.

Russia's ambitious return to the moon was delayed by invading Ukraine

Luna-25 was planned to launch two years earlier, but Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 delayed the mission, space.com reported.

The European Space Agency was meant to provide some of the equipment for the lander, but pulled its cooperation with Russia after the invasion, per space.com.

The mission is reigniting Russia's ambitious space program, which has been dormant for almost half a century.

Building on the Luna-25 mission, Russia is planning to send a rocket to orbit the moon in Luna-26, a drilling rig with Luna-27, and a mission to bring back regolith from the moon with Luna-28, per space.com. The timelines for these missions have not been shared.




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