NASA images show that Russia’s failed Luna-25 mission left a crater on the moon when it crashed last month after a problem preparing for a soft landing on the south pole. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured a sequence of images that showed the new crater on Aug. 24 near the location estimated to be the impact site of Luna-25, whose failure dealt a severe blow to Russia’s efforts to revive its Soviet-era prestige in space.
It was Russia’s first moon mission in 47 years, aiming to collect geological samples and send data back to Earth about the moon’s south pole, which is believed to be rich in water ice. It was also a race to the moon’s south pole against India, which plans to send its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft there next week to search for signs of water and its building blocks in the same region.
But a thruster firing to reposition the lander was supposed to be brief. Still, it continued for too long, putting the probe in an off-design orbit and crashing into the lunar surface. That is what state space corporation Roscosmos reported Sunday after a day of unsuccessful attempts to reestablish communications with the craft. It said Luna-25 deviated from its planned trajectory and “cease(d) existence due to a collision with the Moon’s surface.” A government commission will investigate.
A space expert with the Institute for Space Research in Moscow said it was a significant setback. It was the second time in a month that a Russian mission had fallen apart following the April crash of a private Japanese start-up’s lunar satellite. But it was particularly stinging for Russia, seeking to rebuild its reputation as a global power and compete with the United States and China in the race to reach beyond low Earth orbit. The Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite into orbit in 1957 and put a human into space in 1961.
The recent failures of a human-crewed rocket and a lunar rover further underscored how difficult it is to build and operate spacecraft. And the challenges of a human expedition to the moon remain even more significant than those to Mars, which has a scorching surface and an atmosphere of poisonous gases. The failure of Luna-25 is a reminder that, in addition to the enormous resources required for such an enterprise, even a tiny error can have deadly consequences. The crater left by Luna-25 is only a small indication of the magnitude of that danger.