Luna-25 Launch: Russia Evacuates Village in Path of Rocket Boosters

A local official said that residents of a remote eastern Russian village would be evacuated on Aug. 11 as part of the launch of Russia’s first lunar lander mission in nearly half a century. The uncrewed Luna-25 lunar lander, Russia’s first since 1976, will be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, some 3,450 miles (5,550 km) east of Moscow, according to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency. The spacecraft is set to touch down on the Moon’s South Pole and operate for a year, focusing primarily on developing soft-landing technologies, researching the Moon’s internal structure, and exploring resources, including water.

The lander will carry a camera, spectrometer, seismometer, magnetometer, laser retroreflector and drill and return samples of the Moon’s surface for further analysis. It will also pave the way for future lunar missions, including Luna-26, which will orbit the Moon and map its surface, and Luna-27, which will deploy a rover near Luna-25 to collect and return soil samples.

Despite its low profile, the Luna-25 mission is a significant milestone for Russia and the world’s long-distance space program. “This is one of the longest-ever lunar missions, and it is designed to restore Russia’s prestige in a field where they once led the world,” said Harvey.

In 1962, Khrushchev assigned Chelomei to oversee the L1 project to test new lunar spacesuits during a manned “spacewalk” and conduct a human-crewed circumlunar flight, hoping to steal at least some of Apollo’s thunder (Harvey, 1996). But a Soyuz accident caused the cancellation of the April and May 1967 flights; only the unmanned Soyuz 1 and 2 successfully reached orbit and docked (another successful unmanned docking trial took place in April 1968).

The launch has been delayed several times because of problems with the Soyuz rocket boosters that were supposed to fly the Luna-25 lander and rover to orbit. The latest delay, announced on July 26, is due to problems with the avionics for the spacecraft’s Soyuz-3 booster. The launch was initially scheduled for August but is expected to occur sometime next year.

While Russian planetary scientists spent much of the post-Soviet decades looking for commercial applications for their expertise and piggybacking their instruments on American and European spacecraft, the country’s leadership has been keen to revive its prestige in space. President Vladimir Putin toured the Vostochny Cosmodrome last year to promote the upcoming Luna-25 launch. After a decade of decline, Roscosmos officials hope it will boost Russia’s standing as a significant space power.

The launch of the Luna-25 lander, which is launching on a Soyuz-2 Fregat booster, will require the evacuation of the nearby Shakhtinskyi settlement. The village is situated southeast of the launch site and falls within the predicted area where the rocket’s boosters are expected to fall after separation. The evacuation of the settlement’s 56 residents will start early on Aug. 11. They will be moved to a temporary shelter in another village.

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