INDIAN AND RUSSIAN probes planned to look for ice - one spacefaring first.

WHEN TWO full Moons fall in the same month, as was the case this August, the second is known as a Blue Moon.

When a week boats two Moon landings, the second is called  ..... well, no one knows;  such a one-two punch has never happened before. But there is a decent chance that will change in the coming days.

CHANDRAYAAN 3, an Indian mission blasted off on July 14th. It arrived in lunar orbit three weeks later, having taken a fuel-efficient but slow approach to leaving Earth.

It had spent the days since lowering its orbit towards the tight, circular loop from which its lander attempted a successful touchdown on August 23rd.

LUNA 25, a Russian probe, did not blast off until August 10th. But it took a more direct route, reaching lunar orbit on August 16th. Its operators had planned to get it to the surface on August 21st, shortly after dawn at its landing site.

The landing site, like Chandrayaan-3's, was at a much higher latitude than any previous landing, about 600km from the Moon's south pole. 

THE REGION was of interest because there may be water ice below the surface - or even, in craters where the Sun never rises above the horizon, sitting at the surface as frost.

SCIENTISTS want to understand how and when that ice arrived. Earth's ice caps contain records of past events; so may the lunar ice, assuming the probes could find it.

Proponents of lunar settlement see ice as a potential source of oxygen, water and rocket propellant.

AN AMERICAN mission due to launch in November aims to land on the edge of a crater called Malapert, which is closer to the pole even than the Indian and Russian sites and contains some of the enigmatic permanently shadowed regions.

Researchers in both America and China are looking at Malpert as a candidate for human exploration.

Success was never guaranteed. Russia had not run a successful interplanetary mission since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yuri Borisov of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, had said that Luna 25 had a 75% chance of success.

India was more confident, in part because of past failure. In September 2019 Chandrayaan-2 was just a couple of kilometres from the surface when it malfunctioned and subsequently crashed.

Details of what went wrong have never been made public, but ISRO, India's space agency, definitely learned from the experience. It succeeded, and India became the fourth country, after America, the USSR and China, to have pulled off a landing.

Russia failed. If it had succeeded, it would have repeated something its antecedent once superpower treated as routine. The second landing, if it was the second, would have been the true first.

The World Students Society thanks The Economist.


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