Russia is heading back to the Moon as it tries to reassert itself as a significant world power in the wake of its war on Ukraine. A rocket carrying the Luna-25 craft will mark Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976. The expedition will attempt to land the exploration vehicle on the moon’s south pole, hoping to dig up water ice beneath the surface. You can tune in to watch the launch here.
The Soyuz 2.1v rocket carrying the lander is scheduled to lift off from the Vostochny spaceport in eastern Russia at 7:10 pm Eastern time. If successful, it would be the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon’s south pole. NASA confirmed in 2020 the discovery of water molecules in sunlit parts of the Moon’s surface. Salvageable water could mark a breakthrough for lunar exploration, providing future human lunar missions with life support, fuel (through extracted hydrogen) and even potential agriculture.
Russia’s space trip also serves as a salvo in its attempt to reestablish itself as a significant world power unmoved by the West’s sanctions over its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The vessel’s name is even a callback to the Soviet Space Program: Its last mission was the Luna-24, which spent 13 days heading to the Moon and back to collect samples in 1976. Referencing an era when the Soviet Union was an undeniable world superpower fits with President Vladimir Putin’s goals to project an image of Russian preeminence.
Luna-25 is also in a race against India: the country’s Chandrayaan-3 mission launched on July 14th and entered the Moon’s orbit this week. India’s craft is scheduled to reach the Moon’s south pole on August 23rd. The Luna-25 will take five days to reach the Moon and is expected to spend five to seven days in orbit before touching down. That timeline has Russia’s lander potentially reaching the Moon around the same time as India’s, if not slightly ahead.
The craft is expected to conduct experiments — using its 68 lbs of research equipment — on the Moon for about a year. It includes a scoop that can capture samples up to a depth of 15 cm (six inches) in its hunt for frozen water.
You can watch the launch stream below starting at around 7:10 pm EDT.