Russia is gearing up to launch its first lunar landing spacecraft in almost five decades, engaging in a competitive race with India to reach the moon’s south pole. The moon’s south pole is an enticing target for exploration due to its potential reservoirs of water, which could be crucial in supporting future human missions.
The launch is scheduled to take place from the Vostochny cosmodrome, located 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow. This endeavor follows India’s recent launch of its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander, which is expected to touch down at the moon’s south pole on August 23.
Navigating a landing in this area is challenging due to the rough terrain, but the scientific community believes it holds vast amounts of ice, making it valuable for extracting fuel, oxygen, and drinking water.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has shared that its Luna-25 spacecraft will take approximately five days to reach the moon and then spend five to seven days in lunar orbit before descending to one of three potential landing sites near the pole. Based on this timetable, there is a possibility that Russia’s mission could match or narrowly beat India’s arrival on the moon’s surface.
However, Roscosmos clarified that both missions have distinct landing areas planned, so there is no risk of interference or collision. They reassured that there is sufficient space for both spacecraft on the moon.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is slated to conduct experiments for two weeks, while Luna-25 will extend its lunar exploration for an entire year. The Russian spacecraft, weighing 1.8 tons and carrying 31 kg (68 pounds) of scientific equipment, will utilize a scoop to collect rock samples from depths of up to 15 cm (6 inches) to examine the presence of frozen water, vital for supporting human life.
Lev Zeleny, a space researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, expressed that the moon is akin to the Earth’s “seventh continent,” and the pursuit of exploring and understanding it is inevitable.
Originally planned for October 2021, the launch of Luna-25 faced nearly two years of delays. The European Space Agency’s involvement in the project was discontinued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February the previous year.
As a precaution, residents of a village in Russia’s far east will be temporarily evacuated from their homes at 7.30 a.m. on the launch day. This measure is taken to avoid the “one in a million chance” that one of the rocket stages used to launch Luna-25 could fall to earth near their village. The 26 inhabitants of Shakhtinsky will be relocated to a safe viewing spot to witness the launch and enjoy a complimentary breakfast, returning to their homes within 3-1/2 hours. Fishermen and hunters in the region have also been warned about the launch.