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Russia's Long-Awaited Return to the Moon Crashes and Burns

Luna-25 was Russia's first mission to the Moon in 47 years, an attempt to join a renewed race to the lunar surface.

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Luna 25 captured its first views from space before reaching lunar orbit.
Luna 25 captured its first views from space before reaching lunar orbit.
Image: IKI RAS

The Luna-25 mission crashed on the surface of the Moon this weekend, ending Russia’s quest to prove it still has what it takes to land on the lunar surface.

The Russian space agency lost contact with the spacecraft on Saturday around 7:57 a.m. ET (2:57 p.m. Moscow time), Roscosmos wrote in a statement on Telegram. Preliminary investigations revealed that an engine burn meant to place Luna-25 into a pre-landing orbit around the Moon placed it within an incorrect distance from the lunar surface instead, causing the spacecraft to crash on the Moon.


“We are reminded that landing on any celestial object is anything but easy & straightforward,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s former head of science, wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “Just because others managed to do it decades ago, does not guarantee success today.”

Russia’s failure to land on the lunar surface is a major blow to the country’s attempt at staying relevant amidst a renewed race to the Moon. Its launch marked Russia’s first mission to the Moon in 47 years, since its predecessor Luna-24 returned to Earth in August 1976. Luna-25 launched at 2:10 a.m. local time on August 11 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast, Russia.


Luna-25 was originally planned in cooperation with the European Space Agency, but the space agency pulled out of the mission and the subsequent Luna 26 and 27 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead, Russia was forced to replace European-made parts on the lunar lander with locally built scientific instruments.

Having lost the assistance of its European counterparts, Russia is looking to align itself with China in the race to land astronauts on the Moon in the 2030s. China has been developing a lunar program that aims to rival NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon, including plans for a permanent base on the Moon’s surface. The International Lunar Research Station moon base was announced as a joint project between China and Russia in 2021, and other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan later joined in on the project.

China has already proven it has what it takes to land on the lunar surface with three successful landings under its belt. It’s still not clear, however, what exactly Russia brings to the table. Luna-25 would have not only proven Russia’s ability to land on the surface of the Moon, but also marked a comeback for the country’s space power that has been on the decline since its early glory days during the Cold War.

Luna-25 was meant to surpass India’s own attempt at landing on the lunar surface with the Chandrayaan-3 mission, which launched on July 14 and is scheduled for a touchdown on August 23. Chandrayaan-3 is India’s second lunar landing attempt nearly four years after its predecessor crashed on the surface of the Moon in September 2019 due to an issue with the spacecraft’s braking thrusters.


Both countries were competing for a spot on the lunar south pole. The Moon’s south pole is of great interest to nations hoping to establish a presence on the lunar surface, with evidence showing that it may contain reservoirs of ice that could be used as drinking water, fuel, or to make oxygen.

With the Russian spacecraft out of the way, all eyes are on India’s Chandrayaan-3 to stick the landing later this month.


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