Russia’s Luna-25 Crashes on the Moon
On Saturday, August 21, 2023, Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon after a problem preparing for pre-landing orbit. The mission was the first lunar attempt by Russia in 47 years, and it aimed to explore the south pole of the moon, where water ice and other resources are believed to exist. The failure of Luna-25 underscored the post-Soviet decline of a once mighty space program that sent the first human into orbit and the first rover to the moon.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos said that the spacecraft lost contact with Earth at an altitude of about 2 kilometers above the lunar surface. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but some experts have suggested that a software glitch or a malfunctioning thruster could be to blame. Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov said that the mission was not a complete failure, as it collected valuable data and tested new technologies.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 Nears Its Destination
Meanwhile, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is nearing its destination after launching from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on July 15, 2023. The mission consists of a lander and a rover that will attempt to soft-land on the lunar south pole in September. Chandrayaan-3 is a follow-up to Chandrayaan-2, which failed to land on the moon in 2019 due to a communication loss during the final descent.
India’s space agency ISRO said that Chandrayaan-3 is performing well and has completed several orbit-raising maneuvers around the Earth and the moon. The mission aims to study the topography, mineralogy, and surface chemistry of the lunar south pole, as well as to demonstrate India’s technological capabilities in space exploration. If successful, Chandrayaan-3 will make India the fourth country to land on the moon after the US, Russia, and China.
The Race for Lunar Resources Heats Up
The lunar south pole is considered to be a strategic location for future exploration and development of the moon’s resources. Scientists believe that there are large deposits of water ice in permanently shadowed craters that could be used for drinking, farming, and producing rocket fuel. There are also potential reserves of rare metals and minerals that could be mined and exported to Earth or used for building lunar infrastructure.
Several countries have expressed interest in exploiting the lunar resources, especially as the Earth faces environmental and energy challenges. The US has announced the Artemis Accords, a set of principles for peaceful and sustainable lunar activities that have been signed by 12 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the UK. The accords also aim to establish “safety zones” on the moon to prevent conflicts and interference among different actors.
However, Russia and China have not joined the accords, and have instead proposed their own vision for lunar cooperation. In March 2021, they signed a memorandum of understanding to build a joint lunar research station called ILRS (International Lunar Research Station). They have also invited other countries and organizations to participate in their project, which they claim will be open and inclusive. Russia and China have hinted at the possibility of future joint missions and even a lunar base.
The Future of Lunar Exploration
The recent events on the moon have highlighted the growing competition and collaboration among different countries and entities in space. While some see the moon as a source of scientific discovery and economic opportunity, others see it as a potential arena for geopolitical rivalry and conflict. The legal and ethical issues surrounding the ownership and use of lunar resources are still unresolved, and require international dialogue and consensus.
The future of lunar exploration will depend on how well these challenges are addressed, as well as on how well the technical and operational difficulties are overcome. The moon is not an easy destination to reach or land on, as evidenced by the many failures and setbacks that have occurred over the decades. However, it is also not an impossible one, as evidenced by the many successes and achievements that have also occurred. The moon remains a fascinating and inspiring object of human curiosity and ambition, and will likely continue to be so for years to come.