A Soyuz 2.1 rocket bearing the Luna-25 spacecraft embarked on its journey from the Vostochny cosmodrome, located 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow, at 2:11 a.m. Moscow time on August 11th.

About an hour later, the lander transitioned from Earth’s orbit towards the moon, ultimately entering the moon’s orbit by August 16th. The mission aimed for a gentle landing on the lunar surface, scheduled for Monday.

Russia's Luna-25 crash-lands on Moon day before planned touch down on south pole
Russia’s Luna-25 crash-lands on Moon day before planned touch down on south pole

Unexpected Mishap

Russia’s state space corporation, Roskosmos, reported an “abnormal situation” during an attempt to adjust the craft’s orbit for landing on Saturday at 11:10 GMT.

Communications with the craft were severed at 11:57 GMT on the same day.

“In an unexpected turn of events, the spacecraft deviated into an unpredictable trajectory and subsequently experienced a collision with the moon’s surface,” Roskosmos stated in an official release.

A specialized investigative committee has been established to explore the factors contributing to the mission’s failure.

Implications of the Setback

The mission’s setback not only deals a blow to Russia’s space aspirations but also highlights the nation’s decline in space dominance, which was prominent during the Cold War era. During that period, Moscow achieved significant milestones like launching Earth’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, and sending Yuri Gagarin as the first human to space in 1961.

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Russia’s lunar ambitions had remained dormant since Luna-24’s mission in 1976 during the reign of Leonid Brezhnev. Luna-25 had been designed for a gentle touchdown on the moon’s southern pole on August 21st, as outlined by Russian space authorities.

Furthermore, this setback underscores the economic pressures facing Russia, despite its economy enduring what the West terms as rigorous sanctions. President Vladimir Putin has maintained that Russia’s economy remains resilient.

Over the past decades, Russia has contemplated numerous lunar missions, which faced postponements or cancellations due to the upheaval following the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991. The previous setback in 2011, the Fobos-Grunt mission to Mars’ moon, highlighted the complexities confronting Russia’s space program. The spacecraft couldn’t escape Earth’s orbit and subsequently plunged back, crashing into the Pacific Ocean in 2012.