"Race to the Moon: Nations Compete in the Quest for Frozen Water and Lunar Exploration"

 Russia launched a spacecraft on Friday that is bound for the moon, marking its first attempt since 1976, a time when the Soviet Union and United States were engaged in fierce competition for space dominance during the Cold War.

Moscow aims to make history by being the first country to achieve a soft landing on the moon's icy south pole. The unmanned spacecraft, named Luna-25, took off from Russia's southeast at 2:11 a.m. local time, as confirmed by Russia's space agency, Roscosmos.

According to Roscosmos, it will take slightly over five days for the spacecraft to reach the moon's vicinity. It will then spend several days in orbit before attempting a gentle landing on the lunar surface, north of the Boguslawsky crater, on August 21.

This timeline sets up a race between Russia and India, which launched a similar mission called Chandrayaan-3 last month and aims to achieve a soft landing by August 23. "We hope to be first," said Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov at the launch.

This move puts Moscow in the exclusive and desirable realm of advanced lunar exploration, alongside the United States and China, as an expression of global power. Previous attempts by Japan and Israel have failed in recent years.

Russia has been planning this moonshot for decades, but it comes at a time when the country is facing international economic sanctions and is seen as a pariah by much of the Western world due to its invasion of Ukraine. Despite this, Russia remains a key partner in the International Space Station, a large spacecraft orbiting Earth that serves as a home for multinational astronaut crews. However, its aerospace sector has been impacted by sanctions and restrictions on the use of Western technology, funding, and research collaborations.

"The goal is not to study the moon," said Vitaly Egorov, a prominent Russian space analyst and blogger. "The goal is political competition between two superpowers — China and the USA — and a number of other countries that also want to claim the title of space superpower," he added.

In 1957, Russia became the first nation to launch a satellite into space with Sputnik 1, sparking a space race with the United States. By 1961, the Soviet Union had sent the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space aboard Vostok 1, making a single orbit around Earth. However, as geopolitical tensions escalated, it was the United States that became the first country to land humans on the moon in 1969, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. This achievement was seen as a decisive victory in the space race between the two superpowers, which was an extension of the Cold War. The televised landing was watched by 723 million people worldwide.

Yuri Borisov, the director general of Roscosmos, hailed Friday's launch as a "new page" for Russian space exploration. "All the research results will be transmitted to Earth," he stated on state television. Borisov also acknowledged that the mission is likely to encounter obstacles along the way.

The Luna-25 lander has a four-legged base that houses the landing rockets and propellant tanks. It also has an upper compartment containing solar panels, communication equipment, onboard computers, and most of the scientific instruments, according to NASA. The lander weighs approximately 800 kilograms (around 1,760 pounds), which is equivalent to a car trailer. It is equipped with a 1.6-meter-long (around 5-foot-3-inches) lunar robotic arm with a scoop for collecting rocks, soil, and dust to study the composition of the south pole. If successful, the lander is expected to operate on the lunar surface for one year, according to Roscosmos.

Roscosmos announced on Friday in a Telegram post that "the rocket performed normally, the upper stage separated from the third stage, and is now putting the automatic station on a flight trajectory to the Moon!" The agency added that the launch followed "lengthy preparations" and "anxiously awaited" moments.
The discovery of frozen water on the moon's south pole has sparked a global interest in lunar exploration and colonization. Many nations, including Russia and China, have expressed their intent to send manned missions to the moon and establish lunar bases.

Russia's space chief, Dmitry Borisov, has announced plans for three lunar launches between 2027 and 2030, with the ultimate goal of conducting manned flights and constructing a lunar base. China, too, has set its sights on landing astronauts on the moon before 2030, fueling a new rivalry with the United States.

NASA, the United States' space agency, has its own ambitions of building a sustainable presence on the moon. The agency recently awarded contracts to companies to develop technologies that would enable humans to live on the moon for extended periods. NASA's focus is particularly on the lunar south pole, where the presence of water ice has been confirmed.

However, not everyone in the United States is convinced that returning astronauts to the moon should be NASA's top priority. A Pew Research poll conducted in July found that only 12 percent of adults in the country believe so. Many Americans argue that NASA should prioritize monitoring climate change and identifying potential asteroid threats to Earth instead.

Nevertheless, the search for frozen water on the moon's south pole remains a significant point of interest due to its potential implications for future space exploration and commercial endeavors. Water is not only crucial for sustaining life but can also be used to produce breathable air and rocket fuel. This makes it a valuable resource for establishing a human presence on the moon and facilitating further space exploration.

As nations race to establish a presence on the moon, the quest for water and its utilization in various applications continues to drive their efforts forward. The competition between nations and their respective space agencies promises to shape the future of lunar exploration and pave the way for further advancements in space technology.
Mateen Faris
By : Mateen Faris
Mateen Faris is a professional journalist since 2011, a media graduate from Iraq University, a technology expert, a media consultant and a member of the International Organization of Journalists - a member of the fact-checking team at Meta Company. He writes in the fields of entertainment, art, science and technology, and believes that the pen can change everything.
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