Russia and India attempt to land on the moon as they join a new space race

The Moon may be dead and desolate, but it’s now the hottest real estate in the solar system, drawing the interest of nations around the world eager to demonstrate their technological prowess and help humanity understand its closest celestial neighbors.

Next week, spacecraft from Russia and India are scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface, the latest in an international caravan of robotic spacecraft to the moon in recent years. The Japanese space agency launched a small lander to the moon in an effort to test precision landing techniques that could be used on future missions.

Private companies from Israel and Japan have tried unsuccessfully to land spacecraft in recent years. China, meanwhile, landed in 2019 and again in 2020 and is seeking to send astronauts there by 2030. NASA is working on its own lunar campaign through its Artemis program, which seeks to build infrastructure on and around the moon for the long term. All of this has touched off a race to the moon reminiscent of the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, though very different in scope and purpose and with many competitors.

Today, the goal is not so much Proving superiority of one political system over another, but a race for a physical location, the South Pole of the Moon, where water in the form of ice is permanently present in shadowy craters. Access to that ice is essential for any human settlement, not only because water is critical to sustaining life, but also because its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen, can be used as rocket fuel, turning the moon into a gas station in space. A swing to the rest of the solar system.

United States “By setting up the Artemis strategy, we really made the moon a very important part of the strategy, and with that, I think the whole world listened,” said Thomas Surbusen, former director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “What you’re seeing is really the lunar environment becoming a goal and a national imperative for many countries. I’m not surprised there’s been such interest.”

NASA estimates that over the next decade, human activity on and near the Moon will “equal or exceed anything that has occurred in this region since the beginning of the space age in 1957,” according to a White House report late last year. formulated a plan to coordinate Scientific endeavors around the Moon.

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Matthew Daniels, White House assistant director for science and technology policy, once said. presentation This level of activity in June could reach 150 trips over the next decade. Also, this is a new situation for us. This shows that a large part of the world is interested in going to the moon. He added, “A subset of those countries have demonstrated the initiation or credible intent to establish a permanent presence on the Moon.”

For Russia, its landing, known as Luna-25, will mark its first attempt to land on the moon in 47 years. It’s a way for the country to position itself in the global space race and prove it’s still a player, even though its space program has dried up since the Soviet era. Its spacecraft, carrying scientific payloads, is expected to land early Monday. “All the results of the research will be transferred to Earth,” Yuri Borisov, head of the Russian space agency, said on state television. “We are interested in the presence of water, as well as many experiments related to the study of soil, soil.”

For India trying to boost its space ambitions, its Chandrayaan-3 task A shot at redeeming itself after the failed moon landing attempt in 2019. If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft is expected to touch down on Wednesday. The attempts follow attempts by private companies in Japan this year and Israel in 2019, both of which crashed, illustrating the difficulty of landing in Earth’s air-barrier neighborhood some 240,000 miles away.

China, America’s biggest rival in space, has pursued a steady and largely successful lunar campaign in recent years. In 2019, its rover became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon in continuous operation. In 2020, it returned to the lunar surface, receiving samples for scientific research back on Earth. It has built a space station in low Earth orbit and landed a rover on Mars.

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And then, of course, there’s NASA. Last year, it launched its Artemis campaign to fly its Orion spacecraft unmanned around the moon. Next year, it plans a similar mission, but with four astronauts in the capsule. Before then, it plans several robotic missions, the first of which could arrive by the end of this year, as the two companies become the first commercial ventures to send a spacecraft to the lunar surface.

Houston-based NASA, working under contract with Intuitive Machines, moved its landing site to the South Pole this year, a Conclusion “Based on the need to learn more about terrain and communications near the Moon’s south pole, it is expected to be one of the best locations for a sustained human presence on the Moon,” NASA said.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch the mission in November. The Pittsburgh-based astrobotic company aims to send a lander with scientific payloads to the lunar surface later this year. It is also under contract with NASA and will be launched on the new Vulcan Rocket From the United Publishing Alliance.

After decades of little progress on its deep space human exploration goals, NASA is now focusing on getting back to the moon, and is starting to spend real money. SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have awarded multibillion-dollar contracts to build a spacecraft capable of landing astronauts on the moon. Blue Origin won a more than $34 million contract to make solar cells and transmission wire from lunar regolith, a geological term for loose rock and dirt. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

NASA is also working to build a space station called Gateway, which will be in orbit around the moon and serve as a staging point to deliver astronauts and supplies. The sustained focus on the Moon is a significant shift for the space agency, which has been given different directions and priorities that change with each presidential administration.

In the decades since the Apollo program ended, the space agency sent missions to the Moon, then to Mars and an asteroid, and then to the Moon. But the Artemis project, born during the Trump administration, has been embraced wholeheartedly by the Biden administration. It has bipartisan support in Congress, which is eager to fulfill NASA’s pledge to send the first woman and person of color to the moon.

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Another driving factor is that the Trump and Biden administrations have said the U.S. is in a space race with China and is particularly concerned about its lunar ambitions. In an interview with The Post last year, Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, said she was concerned about how China might behave on the moon, especially when it comes to extracting resources like water ice. “Does this make me nervous?” she said. “Yes, especially with China.”

Don’t know how others will react. To promote transparency, NASA and the State Department have jointly developed a program called the Artemis Accords, which establishes rules for the peaceful use of space and governs behavior on the lunar surface. So far, nearly 30 countries have signed up and will be forced to adhere to a set of rules that include publicly sharing scientific findings and creating “safe zones” where countries can operate unhindered on the lunar surface. India signed and acceded in June. But neither Russia nor China, which aims to set up a presence on the Moon’s south pole.

It raises the question of how they would behave on the moon. “Are people going to be open and transparent about what they’re doing?” said Scott Pace, former executive secretary of the National Space Council and director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. He said the signatories of the Artemis agreement must provide details of their missions and plans: “Where are they going? What if there are failures? Scientific data? That is the kind of openness we want to encourage, and the Artemis Accords will be a good example for others to follow.

Still, he said, there may be advantages to having more activity on the lunar surface. “If more countries can go to the moon and land on the moon, that will not only build capacity and capability, but also facilitate people to work together and build a scientific community,” he said.

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