India lands on the moon ahead of Russia, as race for space intensifies
A new chapter in lunar exploration has unfolded as India lands ahead of Russia in simultaneous robotic moon landing attempts. Russia's Luna-25 lander was set to make its descent around Monday, August 21, but crashed, leaving Putin fuming, which would have marked the country's first lunar mission in nearly 50 years and its first endeavour in the post-Soviet era, but India's Chandrayaan-3 mission landed first on August 23, aiming to succeed where its 2019 predecessor faltered.
Both missions share a common target: the moon's south pole region, which is garnering international interest due to its water ice reservoirs that could fuel future space missions. Moreover, the area features "peaks of eternal light," bathed in near-constant sunlight, making them ideal for powering lunar bases and missions.
"We are witnessing a race for the moon, which is again political and power-based as well as technological," explained Cassandra Steer from the Australian National University before commending India's remarkable progress in matching Russia's achievements at a fraction of the cost and time.
Both landers are equipped with scientific instruments to study lunar regolith minerals and detect water ice. Russia's Luna-25 and India's Chandrayaan-3 share similarities in size, around that of a small car, and autonomous descent from approximately 100 kilometres above the lunar surface.
However, differences are evident in their designs and capabilities. Chandrayaan-3 comprises a solar-powered lander named Vikram and a rover called Pragyan. Russia's Luna-25 is expected to operate near the Boguslavsky impact crater for a year, drawing energy from both solar power and a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.
Russian and Indian space agencies have been relatively tight-lipped about these missions, but they align with peaceful intentions and advancing technology. Russia's space program has faced challenges, including international sanctions, while India's ISRO has risen in prominence with notable missions like its Mars Orbiter Mission and a national space policy.
Looking ahead, both nations plan further lunar exploration, with Russia's Luna-26 scheduled for 2027, followed by Luna-27 and Luna-28. Similarly, India's collaboration with Japan for the Lunar Polar Exploration rover is set to launch in 2026, focusing on water deposits near the lunar south pole.
The landscape of lunar exploration is further diversified by the US and China, with their respective Artemis and Chang'e programs. As nations vie for lunar supremacy and sustainable presence, the moon's surface becomes a focal point for scientific advancements, technological innovation, and international cooperation.