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Russia's Luna-25 Moon Lander Lost Contact, Crashed into the Moon

Turns out, space travel is hard. Luna-25 would have returned Russia to the Moon, but it crashed instead.

By Cassidy Ward
A still image from First to the Moon (2018)

It’s been more than half a century since we’ve been to the Moon. Half a century since the Space Race (streaming now on Peacock!) between the United States and the Soviet Union came to a close. Now, decades after Apollo 17 brought the last lunar astronauts home, Russia has their sights set on the Moon once more. Alas, their latest lunar mission, ended in disaster when the lander crashed into the Moon’s surface.

Luna-25, Russia’s Return to the Moon

On August 10, Russia launched its first lunar mission since the 1970s. In point of fact, if you consider the existing Roscosmos as a different entity than its Soviet-era counterpart, then this was their first lunar mission ever. Roscosmos, for its part, seems keen to maintain a throughline between the Soviet lunar program and its modern incarnation. Which is why they named the mission Luna-25 instead of something new.

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The Last Man on the Moon (2016)

The name places it pretty firmly inside the legacy of the Soviet space program, which was prodigious, no doubt about it. The launch of Luna-25, just 11 days ago, continues a lunar space program which has been on hiatus since Luna-24 launched in August 1976.

Roscosmos was aiming for the lunar south pole, and for good reason. The Moon’s south pole has been an area of extensive interest in recent years, owing to the discovery of vast deposits of water ice. If it had worked, Luna-25 would have been the first spacecraft ever to land at the lunar south pole, in addition to Russia’s triumphant return to the Moon. It wasn’t meant to be.

The Downfall of Luna-25

The spacecraft launched August 10 from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome and set out for the Moon. Roscosmos maintained contact with the craft through Saturday, August 19, when an orbital maneuver gone wrong sent the craft barreling into the Moon’s surface.

On Saturday, mission controllers initiated an engine burn intended to place Luna-25 into a controlled lunar orbit. From there, the craft would have descended slowly, carefully, to its destination at the Moon’s south pole. To achieve the desired orbit, the engines were supposed to burn for 84 seconds, but they didn’t turn off when expected. Instead, they continued to fire for 127 seconds, sending the craft into an uncontrolled descent.

The Moon

Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov blamed the accident on decades of halted space exploration and called for the nation’s lunar program to continue. “The negative experience of interrupting the lunar program for almost 50 years is the main reason for the failures. It would be the worst decision ever for Russia to end the program now,” Borisov said during an interview on state news channel Russia 24, via AP.

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This accident follows closely on the heels of Japan’s Hakuto-R mission, which lost contact and crashed into the Moon in April. It’s a reminder that even half a century after we first went there, going to the Moon isn’t easy. But as U.S. President John F. Kennedy Jr. once said, “We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

He was talking about the United States, of course, and her desire to win the space race, but the sentiment is a human one, not a nationalistic one. So, even in the face of failure, perhaps especially in the face of failure, Borisov is right. We, all of us, are going to the Moon in person or in spirit, setbacks be damned.

Brush up on the last Space Race in advance of the next one, on Peacock!