Russia returns to space by launching the first mission to the moon in nearly 50 years

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On Friday, Russia launched its first spacecraft to the lunar surface in 47 years, seeking to be the first country to carry out a safe landing on the lunar South Pole, an area believed to contain deposits of water ice.

The Russian mission, the first since 1976, is racing against time with India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month, and competing more broadly with the United States and China, which have advanced lunar exploration programs targeting its south pole.

A Soyuz-2.1V rocket carrying the Luna-25 spacecraft lifted off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, 5,550 km east of Moscow, at 0211 AM Friday Moscow time.

More than an hour later, the Russian space agency said, the spacecraft exited Earth’s orbit towards the moon, at which point the mission control center took command of the spacecraft.

Yuri Borisov, director of the Russian Space Agency, told state television that the spacecraft expected to land on the moon on August 21, although the Russian space agency had previously said the spacecraft would land on August 23.

“Now we will wait for the 21st,” Borisov told the workers at Vostochny after the launch… I am hopeful that there will be a very smooth and accurate landing on the moon… We hope that we will have a head start”.

The Luna-25 spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, is planned to operate for a year on the south pole of the moon, where in the past few years, scientists at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other space agencies have discovered traces of water ice in the dark parts of the region.

This mission serves other purposes for the Kremlin, which says that the sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow over the Ukraine war, part of which targeted Moscow’s aviation and space sector, have failed to cripple the Russian economy.

Russia’s decades-long lunar mission also tests the country’s growing independence in space after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 severed nearly all space ties between Moscow and the West, as well as its integrating role on the International Space Station.

The European Space Agency had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to the Luna-25 spacecraft, but it cut ties with the project after Russia invaded Ukraine.

No country has been able to land smoothly on the south pole of the moon, since India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission that failed in 2019.

The rough terrain makes landing there difficult, but the prize for discovering water ice could be historic.

It may be used for fuel and oxygen, as well as for drinking water.

Borisov said that Russia is planning at least three more missions to the moon in the next seven years, and that Russia and China will then work on a mission to the moon carrying a human crew.

The Russian Space Agency said it would take five days to travel to the moon.

The mission will spend five to seven days in orbit around the moon before descending to one of three possible landing sites near the South Pole.

This timeline suggests that it could match or slightly beat its Indian rival on the moon.

Luna-25 weighs about 1.8 tons and carries 31 kilograms of scientific equipment.

The vehicle will use a scoop to take rock samples from a depth of 15 centimeters to test for the presence of water ice.

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