Russia and India Are Racing to Put Landers on the Moon

Robotic spacecraft from both countries are aiming to touch down on the moon’s southern hemisphere, as one’s space program waxes and the other wanes.

Move over, USA and China: Humankind is about to witness robotic moon landing attempts by Russia and India within a few days of each other. Russia’s Luna-25 lander could touch down as soon as Monday, August 21. It’s the country’s first lunar mission in nearly half a century, and the first in the post-Soviet era. Two days later, on August 23, Chandrayaan-3 could become India’s first successful lunar lander. (Its predecessor failed in 2019.)

Both missions are aiming for the moon’s south pole region, a site of increasing international interest because of the presence of water ice that could be extracted for oxygen or rocket propellant. It also includes critical spots known as “peaks of eternal light,” which receive near-constant solar illumination that could power future missions and moon bases.

The 20th-century space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union has given way to a more crowded lunar competition. “I think what we are seeing now is a race for the moon, which is again political and power-based as well as technological. The difference, of course, is that today’s geopolitical reality includes many more countries and players and also commercial entities,” says Cassandra Steer, an expert on space law and space security at the Australian National University in Canberra. “India has caught up with Russia at a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time.”

Both landers come equipped with scientific instruments, including ones for studying the minerals in the lunar regolith and scanning for signs of water ice. Each four-legged lander is about the size of a small car and weighed about 3,900 pounds at liftoff—most of that weight was propellant. After departing from lunar orbit, both will make their final, autonomous descent from about 100 kilometers above the ground.

But the two have many differences. India’s craft, which will land close to the lunar south pole, includes a lander called Vikram and a small rover called Pragyan. Both are solar-powered and are designed to last for a lunar day, or about two weeks. Russia’s Luna-25 will likely land near the Boguslavsky impact crater and is intended to operate for a whole year. It will run off both solar power and its radioisotope thermoelectric generator, similar to the nuclear power source that has given the Voyager spacecraft their longevity.

Russian and Indian authorities have made few public statements about these missions, and neither space agency responded to requests for comment from WIRED. But Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov did tell Russia’s TASS state news agency, “The goals of this mission are of purely peaceful nature.” The Indian space agency released a statement saying Chandrayaan-3 has “the objective of developing and demonstrating new technologies required for interplanetary missions.”

Roscosmos has given the lander a name that evokes Luna-24, a probe that collected lunar samples and launched them back to Earth in 1976, during the heyday of the program’s Soviet predecessor. But recently, the Russian space program has been in decline, accelerated by the nation’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the resulting international sanctions. Russia has since lost lucrative launch contracts and its role in international collaborations, like the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission planned for later this decade. The head of Roscosmos has also said Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station as early as 2028, although the nation has no immediate successor station of its own.

Comment: I wish them both good fortune. Space exploration is an endeavor in which all mankind should share both our successes and failures. The first race to the moon was obviously a geopolitical competition, but I seem to remember there was also a brief period of human unity surrounding that milestone.

The lunar south pole is going to test that oneness of mankind. All the players are aiming for the same piece of real estate. The map above of the south polar region of the moon shows thirteen landing regions NASA is considering for Artemis 3. China’s space agency has also picked out desired spots. Artemis 3 and Chang’e-7 both identify sites near Shackleton, Haworth and Nobile craters as potential landing zones. Once these Russian and Indian landers touch down, it will be interesting to see how their landing sites compare to the Chinese and American proposed sites.

Before anyone forgets, the Chinese lunar lander and rover are still in operation at the south pole. The lander did some deep mapping of the lunar subsurface giving us an enlightening view into the moon’s early years.


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23 Responses to Russia and India Are Racing to Put Landers on the Moon

  1. F&L says:

    Our decoding department, using the most advanced multiply parallel processing architecture and AI software, in conjunction with our well known worlwide surveillance facilities, which by necessity we always deny because we were instructed by incorrigible liars inspired, no, nurtured and instructed by the devil himself actually – have intercepted a secret message addressed as described in this excerpt which we provide below, with excessive charity, it needn’t be said.

    Dear Mister TTG, retired US Army Lt Col,
    of somewhere in Virginia USA;

    We will not allow you to continue your antics which have disfigured and sullied the annals in our possession. Please at once prepare your report regarding what in fact you did with the missing 13 centimeters of the corpse of Frau Eva Braun. We have reasons to believe that you were not above burying the remains at the South Pole of the Moon. As you are aware, speaking or signaling to anyone about this matter will only increase the severity of the judgement pronounced upon you should our suspicions be found valid in a court of law whose officers are employed and pensioned by the organization we represent. Thank you.
    Find the Führer: The Secret Soviet Investigation – Episode 2: The ‘Eva Braun’ Corpse:

    • Keith Harbaugh says:

      F&L: I suggest you cut back on your absurdities.
      Also on word play, anagrams, and numerology (Roman numerals???).
      Just a suggestion 🙂
      But that is not to disparage your serious, substantive contributions.

      • jld says:

        I concur, digging out the truly cogent gems here and there out of the claptrap is painful.
        So sometimes I just skip it, probably not alone. 🙂

      • F&L says:

        OK. I’ll limit myself to factoids. Here’s an offering as apology.
        Photos (2) claiming to be of drone attack yesterday or db.
        Photos are circulating on the Web that allegedly capture the result of a drone attack on the Novgorod airfield “Soltsy”, where the Tu-22M3 bomber was eventually “damaged”.
        Telegram channels which appear to be sensible are saying this guy Grigory is or was truly harmless, not at all an oppositionist nor leader. Just a person naive enough to try for fair elections in Ru. Of course I don’t know. Just as I can’t tell if the photos above are credible.

  2. KjHeart says:

    let me guess… after those rare (earth) minerals?


    • TTG says:


      I think it’s the large deposits of water ice everyone’s looking at, at least initially. Without that water ice for fuel, no one’s going to get to those minerals.

  3. Whitewall says:

    If media articles are to be believed, the Russian craft found the moon alright as the thing crashed into the surface.

    • blue peacock says:

      Russia’s first moon mission in 47 years failed after its Luna-25 space craft spun out of control and smashed into moon.

      Russia’s state space corporation, Roskosmos, said it had lost contact with the craft shortly after a problem occurred as the craft was shunted into pre-landing orbit on Saturday.

      ‘The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the Moon,’ Roskosmos said in a statement.

      Failure is to be expected in space exploration. Maybe the next go-around they’ll get it to work.

      • Whitewall says:

        They might get it next time. I still remember the old days when the Russians would rarely admit they launched something and if any bad happened, Moscow wouldn’t admit that either.

  4. Lars says:

    Seems like Russia forgot to have a brake system on the lunar lander that crashed upon arrival. It could have been sold before launch.

  5. F&L says:

    At least the Beautiful raven-haired woman who represents herself as Ukrainian is very pleasant to see. Haven’t watched it entirely yet. Three videos of 30 minutes. Part 3 was pushed into queue first here, which features a blurb in yellow caps “Big interview: No one will overthrow Putin today! (Part 3/3).”
    Alexander Lukashenko: Sensational huge interview about Ukraine! Part 1/3. Russia, Putin.

  6. leith says:

    I also wished them both well. Unfortunate if true that Luna25 crashed. It gives the hardcore Putinistas more paranoia.

    Regarding TTGs link to the Wired article. The primary takeaway for me was the quote: “India has caught up with Russia at a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time.” Perhaps true. But Indian astronomy goes back four millennia. Much of the inspiration for Chinese and Islamic astronomical concepts came from India. And the Indians spoke of gravity as an attracting force several centuries before that apple bounced off Isaac Newton’s noggin.

    • blue peacock says:


      Indeed, the Indians are deploying launchers at a fraction of the cost of the US and even Russia apparently. So, this begs the question why does everything cost so much in the US? Where is this excess spend going? Clearly, in the US we don’t get bang for our buck.

      We are spending on the books around $800 billion annually on our military. How much ammo, equipment, trained soldiers, etc do we get for it? What is our current combat readiness – meaning if POTUS ordered a war, how many troops, equipment, fuel, ammo, etc could be deployed instantly?

      • Lars says:

        You bring up good questions and you may find answers in President Eisenhower’s farewell speech. It is a rigged system. Some military officers spend time at arms and then go to work for a supplier and use prior connections to increase profits that will earn them bonuses. When I was in the trucking business, I once delivered office chairs to a government warehouse and it was for a project due in 8 years. But if the agency does not spend their allotment, their budget is reduced. Multiply this across the entire budget and you will lose a lot of money.

      • leith says:

        Lars & Blue Peacock –

        I know little to nothing of finance outside of an ECON 101 class I took 45 or 50 years ago. It was an after hours U of Maryland class at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. The instructor was an Air Force Major who was a comptroller in his day job at Kadena. Us students were a mix of GIs, Seabees, jarheads like me, and even a few DoD dependents. One story the Major told us after he’d had a few too many at the O club has alwys stuck in my mind: When the fiscal year was near an end, all AF bases around the world made an extra effort to spend any money left over in their accounts – anything left they could not spend they would transfer the funds to bases in a different time zone – thereby gaining a few more hours to get it spent – or a full day if they were west of the International Date Line. So Kadena and other bases in West Pac always ended up with extra and spent it on things they didn’t need at the time but thought they might need it sometime in the future.

        That was heresy to my mind. The Corps in those days always bragged about turning a chunk of budget money back into Congress at the end of the fiscal year. We’d had our heads shaped that was why we had to put up with ancient field kit and other second rate gear.

  7. ked says:

    newbies to serious space science exploration are lucky to accomplish what the US did in the ’60s. & did so by leveraging all the open source NRE work we thoughtfully made available for a half-century. then there’s that ineffable thing called inflation. however, no question about waste, fraud & abuse. on the other hand, it’s not like it’s unique to our particularly hyper-capitalist way of blowing tax $ – anyone can do it – & do – but we can beat ’em on scale. speaking of the SES way of doing things (Socialist Enterprises Segments… not Senior Executive Service… but close), our MIC is a finely-tuned case. yet somehow they turn out pretty good weapons systems (despite best efforts on occasions) & our uniformed services are victorious in almost all serious force-on-force Olympics – it’s policy-makers at civil headquarters playing WarLord that seem to fall short … for decades. Pogo got that right.
    anyway, I look fwd to Putin’s Peoples International seeing the ever-deft hand of US sabotage in Luna-25’s crash landing… at least it hit the right moon!

  8. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Anyone remember the “IBRM (Into Banana River Missile)” missile?
    (So nicknamed because of the many times it failed its early testing.)

    Or the initial Vanguard launch?

    See also five failures:

    (BTW, I almost read the title of this article with “Ann” added. 🙂

  9. ked says:

    here’s a novel platform to be launched Saturday. a joint US / Japan effort to further resolve that space/time/energy/matter/heat/light thing. amazing specs.
    ironic how the giant earth-bound large hadron collider, a toy of atomic physicists for study of tiny particles on earth, and the quite compact (& super cool) space-bound sensor of astrophysicists both seek answersto the same underlying questions.

  10. Whitewall says:

    According to media reports, India has just parked their space craft nicely on the moon. Well done! Probably nicely between the yellow lines I’ll bet.

    • leith says:

      They’re celebrating at the Bengaluru space ops complex. Good on them! Fourth to the moon, but first to the moon’s south pole. I hope NASA has reached out to them. We’d be fools not to.

      • TTG says:


        There will be a launch of a joint NASA-ISRO earth observation mission from India next year. I’m sure there’ll be more. India also signed on with the Artemis Accords last month.

    • TTG says:


      Great success for India and ISRO. I was glad to see Narendra Modi’s remarks from the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg somewhat echo Neil Armstrong’s words. “On this joyous occasion… I would like to address all the people of the world. This success belongs to all of humanity, and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future.”

      • Whitewall says:

        You caught that too I see. It was a nice touch at that summit, especially since ‘you know who’ didn’t show up for fear of arrest or something. The Russian craft crashing onto the surface a few days ago must have been uncomfortable for him.

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