After a hiatus of 47 years, Russia is on the verge of unveiling its maiden lunar landing spacecraft this Friday. This endeavor enters a heated competition with India to conquer the enigmatic south pole of the moon—a potential reservoir of water that could sustain an eventual human settlement.
The inaugural flight is set to originate from the Vostochny cosmodrome, nestled 3,450 miles (5,550 km) to the east of Moscow. Notably, this event unfolds just a month after India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander embarked on its journey, with a scheduled touchdown at the lunar pole projected for August 23rd.
The topography at the intended landing site presents formidable challenges, yet the south pole holds allure due to the scientific community’s anticipation of substantial ice deposits, speculated to be ripe for extraction of fuel, oxygen, and potable water.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, in response to inquiries from Reuters, disclosed that their Luna-25 spacecraft is poised to complete a five-day lunar voyage.
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Subsequently, it will linger in lunar orbit for a span of five to seven days before commencing descent towards one of three potential landing sites in the vicinity of the pole. This well-laid schedule hints at the possibility of outpacing or at least narrowly matching its Indian counterpart in touching the moon’s surface.
“SUFFICIENT SPACE FOR ALL”
A spokesperson from Roscosmos underlined the compatibility of the two missions, citing distinct landing sites as evidence that the efforts would not impede each other. “The apprehension of interference or collision is unwarranted, as abundant expanse exists for all on the lunar terrain,” assured the spokesperson.
In a contrasting temporal ambit, the Chandrayaan-3 mission intends to conduct experiments over a span of two weeks. In stark contrast, Luna-25 is poised for a year-long sojourn on the lunar surface.
The trail was blazed by Japan’s ispace (9348.T) in April, which endeavored to accomplish the pioneering feat of a moon landing by a privately-owned space enterprise but faced failure.
Luna-25, encompassing a mass of 1.8 tons and bearing a payload of 31 kg (68 pounds) of scientific instrumentation, will adopt a scoop mechanism to extract rock samples from depths reaching up to 15 cm (6 inches).
This procedure is devised to discern the presence of frozen water that could potentially sustain human existence.
Lev Zeleny, a space researcher affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences, eloquently expressed the ambition driving this quest: “The moon stands as Earth’s seventh continent, compelling us to conquer it.”
The maiden launch, initially charted for October 2021, has endured multiple postponements spanning nearly two years.
The European Space Agency had plans to demonstrate the efficacy of its Pilot-D navigation camera through integration with Luna-25. However, ties were severed following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in February of the preceding year.
In a rather extraordinary precautionary measure, the inhabitants of a remote village in Russia’s far eastern reaches will be evacuated at 7:30 a.m. on the day of the launch.
The move is prompted by a perceived “one in a million chance” of a rocket stage from the Luna-25 launch potentially plummeting onto their village.
Alexei Maslov, a local official, communicated to the Russian news outlet Business FM that the 26 residents of Shakhtinsky would be temporarily relocated to a vantage point to observe the launch.
This evacuation comes complete with an unexpected perk—a complimentary breakfast—and the villagers are expected to return home within a span of 3 and a half hours. Additional warnings have been issued to regional fishermen and hunters to ensure their safety in light of the launch activities.