Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
It was a tale of two space programs. On Sunday, Russia’s Luna-25 lander malfunctioned as it prepared to touch down on the moon’s south pole the following day—eventually crashing into the lunar surface. If it had landed, it would have been the country’s first return to the moon since 1976, when it was still branded as the Soviet Union. Instead, it ended up being another black eye for a beleaguered space program.
Then, a few days later, India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully touched down on the moon’s south pole—making them the fourth country to land on the lunar surface after the Soviet Union, the U.S., and China. There, researchers hope to deploy a rover to search for and study ice and soil in the region—which many suspect holds valuable and vital resources for future lunar missions.
While it was a resoundingly successful mission, the Chandrayaan-3 lander underscored the relatively flagging state of Russia’s civilian space agency, Roscosmos. It’s seen its stature on the world stage take a beating in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, and had already been suffering from a string of embarrassing news ranging from the bloviating smack talk of its former chief Dmitry Rogozin to the multiple life threatening incidents it caused to astronauts on the International Space Station. The failure of Luna-25 calls into question the long term ambitions of Roscosmos—and whether or not we’re witnessing the death rattle of Russia’s space ambitions.