Russia's bid to achieve its first successful moon mission in almost five decades ended in disaster and (some would say well deserved) disappointment as the Luna-25 spacecraft lost control and crashed into the lunar surface. The incident highlighted the diminishing prowess of Russia's space program since its Soviet-era heyday.
Roscosmos, Russia's state space corporation, revealed that contact was lost with Luna-25 on a Saturday, during its transition into a pre-landing orbit, with a soft landing initially slated for the following Monday. A statement from Roscosmos indicated that the craft deviated into an unforeseen trajectory, leading to its eventual collision with the moon's surface.
To delve into the cause of the Luna-25's failure, a specialized inter-departmental commission was convened. This setback posed a poignant contrast to the Cold War era when Russia achieved milestones like launching the first Earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, and having Yuri Gagarin as the inaugural human in space in 1961.
Notably, this mishap took place against the backdrop of Russia facing significant geopolitical and economic challenges, including Western sanctions and involvement in the ongoing war in Ukraine as well conflicts in Africa and in Europe which seem poised to expand. The nation's economy, valued at $2 trillion, is having its worst trouble in decades.
The thwarted moon mission marked Russia's first such attempt since the Luna-24 mission in 1976, during the era of Leonid Brezhnev's leadership. Russia's endeavor was partly aimed at outpacing India, whose Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft was scheduled for a moon landing around the same period. Additionally, Russia faced competition from China and the United States who are both sending missions to the moon, and making plans for permanent habitation on the lunar surface.
The ill-fated Luna-25 initiative was designed to exhibit Russia's capacity to compete in the global space race, even amid its decline following the Soviet era and its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
Following the incident, an eminent physicist and astronomer closely associated with the mission was urgently hospitalized in Moscow.
Mikhail Marov, a 90-year-old luminary in the field, was swiftly admitted to the hospital on Saturday, a response to the abrupt and severe decline in his health that coincided with the mission's unfortunate outcome.
Marov's words, as reported by the Independent, conveyed the profound impact of the mission's failure on his well-being. In interviews with news outlet RBC and the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, the venerable astronomer revealed how the weight of the setback had taken a toll on his physical condition.
This particular mission represented a bold leap for Russia, as it bypassed the conventional trajectory of a simpler orbital mission in favor of a more intricate lunar landing endeavor. The country's space program encountered a major setback a decade ago with the Fobos-Grunt mission's failure, which was intended to reach one of Mars' moons but ended up falling back to Earth.
Although Luna-25 managed to exit Earth's orbit, its ultimate failure cast uncertainty over Russia's bid to be the first to explore the moon's south pole, where scientists believe frozen water reserves are located. The consequences of this mission's failure on Russia's broader lunar exploration agenda remained unclear, as the nation had envisaged several more missions in the years to come.