The first Russian lunar probe in nearly 50 years on its way to the Moon

2023-08-11 07:27:36

The first Russian lunar probe launched in nearly 50 years was on its way to the moon on Friday, a mission intended to give new impetus to the Russian space sector, which has been struggling for years and isolated due to the conflict in Ukraine.

The launch of the Luna-25 probe is the first lunar mission for Moscow since 1976, when the USSR was a pioneer in the conquest of space. A star that has faded due to funding problems and corruption scandals.

The Soyuz rocket carrying this nearly 800-kilogram probe took off on time at 2:10 a.m. Moscow time (2310 GMT) from the Vostotchny cosmodrome in the Far East, according to images broadcast live by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The craft rose in a plume of smoke and flame under a gray sky. It must reach lunar orbit in five days, on which it will then spend between three and seven days to choose the right place before landing in the lunar South Pole area.

“The launch of the device into 100 km high lunar orbit is scheduled for August 16, and its smooth landing on the surface of the Earth’s natural satellite is expected on August 21 north of the Buguslavsky crater”, on the lunar south pole, Roscosmos said in a statement.

“For the first time in history the moon landing will be carried out on the lunar South Pole. Until now, everyone landed in the equatorial zone,” said a senior official of Roscosmos, Alexandre Blokhine, in a recent interview with the official newspaper Rossiïskaïa Gazeta.

“The ambition of our ancestors”

The probe, which will have to stay on the Moon for a year, will have the mission of “taking (samples) and analyzing the soil”, as well as “carrying out long-term scientific research”, the space agency further indicated.

This launch is the first mission of the new Russian lunar program, which starts when Roscosmos is deprived of its partnerships with the West. As with its diplomatic orientation, Moscow is thus seeking to develop space cooperation with China.

The ambitions are high: according to Russian space expert Vitali Yegorov, this is the first time that post-Soviet Russia has attempted to place a device on a celestial body.

“The bigger question will be: can it arise?” he explained to AFP, stressing that this mission is “of great importance” for Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has promised to continue Russia’s space program despite sanctions, citing the example of the USSR sending the first man into space in 1961, amid escalating East-West tensions.

“We are guided by the ambition of our ancestors to move forward, despite the difficulties and external attempts to prevent us from doing so,” Putin said, speaking at the Vostochny cosmodrome last year. .

“Risky” mission

Still, the Luna-25 mission is “risky”, by the very admission of the boss of Roscosmos Yuri Borissov. “The probability of success of such missions is estimated at about 70%,” he told Vladimir Putin during a meeting in June.

The first stage of the Soyuz launcher fell 28 km from the village of Shakhtinsky, in the Khabarovsk region in the Far East, announced on Telegram the regional governor, Mikhail Degtiariov. According to him, the 18 inhabitants of the village were evacuated an hour before the launch and were able to return to their homes a few hours later.

The last Soviet mission to the Moon in 1976, Luna-24, brought soil samples back to Earth.

The space sector is a source of great pride in Russia, the Soviets having launched the first satellite, Sputnik, sent the first animal, a dog named Laika, into Earth orbit, the first man, Yuri Gagarin, then the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova .

The USSR, however, had been beaten by the United States for the first man on the Moon, with the flight of Neil Armstrong in July 1969.

The Russian space program, which still relies heavily on Soviet-designed technologies, struggles to innovate and suffers from chronic underfunding, with Moscow prioritizing military spending.

It has also been marked by corruption scandals and a few failed launches, while being increasingly challenged by the United States, China and also private initiatives, such as those of Space X, billionaire Elon Musk.

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