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Russia’s first mission to the Moon in decades ended in failure as its Luna 25 spacecraft crashed into the lunar surface.
The accident, a blow to Russia’s space ambitions, occurred after communication with the robotic spacecraft was lost.
Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said it lost contact with Luna 25 on Saturday around 2:57 p.m. Moscow time.
“The measures taken on August 19 and 20 to search for and contact the device did not produce any results,” the space agency stated.
Roskosmos said that, according to a “preliminary analysis”, Luna-25 “turned into an unplanned orbit” before the collision.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.
The agency added that a specially formed committee will investigate the reasons for the loss of Luna 25.
The news comes a day after the spacecraft declared an “emergency” while trying to enter orbit before landing, according to Roscosmos.
“During the operation, an emergency situation occurred on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters,” Roscosmos shared in a Telegram post on Saturday.
The spacecraft was supposed to complete Russia’s first lunar landing mission in 47 years. The last lunar lander, Luna 24, landed on the lunar surface on August 18, 1976.
The Luna 25 probe lifted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Amur Oblast on Aug. 10, putting the vehicle on a fast journey to the Moon.
Luna 25’s trajectory allowed it to overtake India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander, which was launched in mid-July, on its way to the lunar surface.
Also called Luna-Glob-Lander, Luna 25 has been on a mission to study the composition of lunar soil and the very thin lunar outer atmosphere, or lunar mesosphere, for one year.
The mission’s trajectory allowed it to overtake India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander, which was launched in mid-July.
Both spacecraft were headed to the lunar south pole region.
Much of the interest in the region is due to the fact that it remains one of the least explored regions of the Moon. The geographic region is also where scientists believe water is stored on the moon’s surface as ice, frozen solid in dark craters sheltered from the sun’s rays.
However, descriptions that India and Russia were racing to reach the moon’s south pole weren’t entirely accurate, according to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, a researcher at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard and Smithsonian University. He noted that the two projects have been in the works for more than a decade.
Initially, Roscosmos and the European Space Agency planned to partner on Luna 25, as well as Luna 26, Luna 27 and the ExoMars rover.
But this partnership ceased in April 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ESA board moved to “Cease collaborative activities With Russia.
Luna 25 had eight science instruments, including a specialized instrument called a spectrometer. One was intended to study lunar soil, and the other to detect surface water, according to NASA.
Meanwhile, India’s Chandrayaan-3 has a lander, thrust module and rover – an exploration capability that Russia did not have. The small robotic rover can traverse the lunar terrain.
The Chandrayaan-3 landing could mark the country’s first successful moon landing. India’s last attempt ended in failure when the Chandrayaan-2 landed in September 2019.
Chandrayaan-3 is scheduled to attempt a landing as soon as Wednesday, August 23.
Luna 25 was seen as a testing ground for future robotic lunar exploration missions by Roscosmos. Several future Luna spacecraft are slated to make use of the same design.
Had it been successful, Luna 25 would have marked a huge step for the country’s civilian space program—which some experts say has been plagued with problems for decades—and proved it can still perform high-level, high-stakes missions.
“They were having a lot of problems with quality control, corruption and funding,” Victoria Samson, Washington office director for the Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes peaceful exploration of outer space, said during an interview Friday.
The news that Russia had encountered problems with their spacecraft sparked sympathy that resonated throughout the space community.
Thomas Zurbuchen, former chief of science for NASA, said in a statement Share on social media that no one in the industry “wishes ill of other explorers”.
“We remember that landing on any celestial body is anything but easy and straightforward,” he said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Just because others were able to do it decades ago doesn’t guarantee success today.”