Russia announces plans for a moon landing
On December 14, 1972, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt left the surface of the moon, marking the last time humans walked on the lunar surface. We’ve come a long way since then in terms of technology, but the moon is once again out of reach. At least for now.
Russian rocket company Energia is planning a crewed return trip to the moon. It may take a few years, but the goal is to have people walking on the lunar surface in 2031. It is also planning on helping to launch a space station – possibly in lunar orbit – within the next decade.
The news came from Energia CEO Vladimir Solntsev by way of the Russian news agency TASS. Details are scarce – almost suspiciously so – but it is in keeping with Russia’s overall space goals. Russia’s plans include the development of a new heavy-lift rocket and a new manned spacecraft known as Federation.
It’s also no secret that Russia – and many others – would love to claim that they have sent people to the moon. The U.S. remains the only country to pull off this feat, but American space technology has gone in a different direction in the years since. NASA has become an expert at launching probes that can hit objects the size of a small car flying through space millions of miles away, but lifting people into orbit has become something of an issue.
The American space industry is still alive and well, but much of the biggest development of new tech have jumped to the private sector. If everything goes as planned, Boeing and SpaceX will both be able to offer crewed missions. Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin’s Galactic (which is pursuing different goals) are close behind. The commercial companies don’t have any specific plans for landing on the moon, but they are tentatively involved in plans to reach Mars at some point soon.
Part of the plan to reach the moon (and Mars) will first involve commissioning a replacement for the International Space Station, or finding a way to launch long-term space missions without it. The ISS is currently set to be decommissioned in 2024 (although that may be extended to 2028). Launching missions to the moon, Mars, or beyond, would be made significantly easier if the spacecraft could stop and fully supply before leaving.
Sending supplies up and storing them in some form of space station or space depot, it would cut the costs significantly. Weight is a huge factor in space exploration – both in leaving the planet and traveling beyond it. Being able to take supplies up, including fuel, over time could make all the difference.
At the moment, there are several possible replacement options from several governments, including Russia. When the ISS is decommissioned, the Russians intend to separate their module off and either add it to a new station or build another around it. That station might then be taken into lunar orbit or left in high orbit around Earth.
At the moment this is all just planning and theory. Russia initially claimed that it wanted to reach the moon by 2029, but this time they have a plan that includes multiple missions leading up to a new lunar excursion. The first of these missions will send an uncrewed spacecraft around the moon in 2026, then another uncrewed mission that would touch down on the lunar surface in 2027. Another uncrewed mission would reach the moon’s surface in 2029.
The Russians will be facing competition in their goal. The U.S. has discussed sending people back to the moon, India is looking in that direction, and China is potentially leading the way.