Russia's first spacecraft to the Moon in almost five decades lifted off on Friday (11 August).
Their goal is to be the first nation to achieve a soft landing on the lunar south pole, a key objective of the Indian mission Chandrayaan-3, as well.
The south pole region is believed to contain valuable water ice reserves.
The Russian Moon mission has come amidst recent lunar exploration efforts by India, the United States, and China, all of whom have their sights set on the lunar south pole.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) congratulated Russia's space agency Roscosmos on the successful launch of Luna-25 in a tweet.
The Russian lunar mission, known as Luna-25, was launched using a Soyuz 2.1v rocket from the Vostochny cosmodrome, located over 5,500 km east of Moscow.
The rocket took off at 2.11 am on Friday Moscow time, with the lander being boosted out of Earth's orbit towards the Moon over an hour later.
This marks a significant milestone for Russia, as it is their first lunar mission since 1976.
According to Yuri Borisov, the head of Roscosmos, the Luna-25 lander is expected to touch down on the Moon on 21 August, as reported by news agency Interfax. Roscosmos had previously announced 23 August as the landing date.
Chandrayaan-3 is likely to arrive at the Moon's surface on 23 August. The Russian lander, therefore, could potentially reach the Moon's surface before or around the same time as its Indian counterpart, the Vikram lander.
The Luna-25 mission aims to explore the Moon's south pole, where traces of water ice have been detected in shadowed craters by space agencies.
The Russian spacecraft is designed to operate for a year in this region.
The Soviet Union's Luna-2 mission had reached the Moon's surface in 1959, becoming the first to do so. Then, the Luna-9 mission in 1966 achieved the first soft landing on the Moon.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has not launched any scientific probes beyond the Earth's orbit.
So far, no country has successfully landed on the south pole of the Moon. In 2019, the Chandrayaan-2 mission faced failure in trying to do so.
The challenging terrain of the south pole makes landing difficult, but the potential discovery of water ice is highly significant. This water could have various uses, including extracting fuel, oxygen, and providing drinking water.
Luna-25, if it accomplishes a soft landing, is expected to operate on the Moon for a minimum of one Earth year, collecting samples.
Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled to conduct experiments for a duration of two weeks.
Luna-25, equipped with 31 kg of scientific instruments, will employ a scoop to collect rock samples from depths of up to 15 cm. These samples will be tested for the existence of frozen water.
Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.
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