August 28, 2023

The Moon

Russia's first moon mission in 47 years failed when its Luna-25 space craft spun out of control and crashed into the moon after a problem preparing for pre-landing orbit.” Reuters

An Indian spacecraft became the first to land on the rugged, unexplored south pole of the moon [last] Wednesday in a mission seen as crucial to lunar exploration and India's standing as a space power.” Reuters

Both sides argue that this is a major disappointment for Russia and a triumph for India:

“[India’s] successful landing came just days after a Russian mission to the same region went haywire and smashed into the lunar surface like a hammer coming down on the last nail in the coffin of Russia’s decline. Hyperbole? Not for the nation that made its space program a billboard for its rise to global influence. As the dominant republic of the Soviet Union, Russia was first to put a satellite into orbit, first to send a human into space and first to land a spacecraft on the moon…

“Of course, there’s nothing to learn from the lunar crash site that the world hasn’t seen already on the battlefields of Ukraine, where the once-fearsome Russian tank columns were wiped out by Ukrainian volunteers, or in the looting of the Russian economy, which has seen pitiful net growth (in constant dollars) since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago…

“Here, too, a comparison with India is illuminating: India’s economy was about half the size of Russia’s when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Today, India’s economy is 50 percent bigger than Russia’s. Forget about keeping pace with the United States; Russia can’t keep up with India.”

David Von Drehle, Washington Post

“The immensity of the humiliation that the loss of the Luna 25 has visited on Russia can hardly be overestimated. Russia has become a pariah state to many thanks to its ongoing war in Ukraine. Its space program largely depends on Western beneficence, particularly the partnership with the International Space Station. Luna 25 would have proved that Russia could still explore space on its own. Instead, it has proven that Russia as a space power is in decline…

“India, on the other hand, has proven that with effort and ingenuity, it can land on the moon to help uncover its secrets… Chandrayaan-3 also proves that, unlike Russia and, to a certain extent, China, India knows that the way to national greatness is not through hard military power used to dominate and terrorize other countries. The real path to greatness is through technological development, particularly in space exploration.”

Mark R. Whittington, The Hill

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The operation’s $74-million cost was significantly less than the budgets of blockbuster space movies such as ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar.’… This is an endearing example of the ‘jugaad’ mindset of Indian engineers, which describes problem-solving with frugality and creativity…

“Although top Indian engineering colleges have a fraction of the endowment of top American engineering colleges such as Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, their graduates go on to dominate top jobs in Silicon Valley — including the CEOs of multibillion-dollar corporations such as Microsoft and Alphabet. Here’s to the country that transformed a shoestring budget into cosmic success, reminding us all that the universe favors the bold, but especially those who are both innovative and wise.”

Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times

“In recent years, government space agencies, nonprofits, and companies from Russia, India, Israel, and Japan have attempted (and failed) to land crafts on the southern part of the moon. The US and China also have future missions planned. These countries and entities are interested in exploring the moon for scientific purposes, but also potentially industrial or commercial ones…

“But with the new space race comes a potential consequence: The surface of the moon could start to get littered with our junk… Since [1969], over 50 rocket boosters have collided with the moon. Outside the dozens of boosters, space missions have left behind two golf balls, a dozen boots, a feather from the Air Force Academy’s falcon mascot, nearly a hundred bags of urine, feces, and vomit, and a range of other distinctly human artifacts.”

Rachel DuRose, Vox

From the Right

“In addition to the political and PR benefits, this mission does have real scientific value. India is the first nation to land near the moon’s south pole which scans have indicated is the area of the moon most likely to have ice. It’s thought that a supply of water would be significant for future crewed missions to the moon as it could be turned into drinking water or even rocket fuel.”

John Sexton, Hot Air

“When asked what NASA’s priorities should be [in a recent poll], the only majority propositions were for the agency to dedicate itself to monitoring both the Earth’s climate and potential Earth-crossing objects… Fewer than 20 percent of Americans said it was vital to see the agency return Americans to the surface of the moon or explore Mars…

“[But] The moon is no distraction… Its lack of atmosphere and reduced gravity make it an ideal refueling station on the way to other objects in the solar system… Moreover, when — not if — fusion ignition becomes a reliable method of power generation, harvesting the scarce isotope helium-3 from the lunar surface is likely to become a consuming obsession for every major power on the planet…

“Some of this might sound science-fictional, but that is not the view of the powerful commercial interests in the U.S. seeking to develop the moon’s resources. Nor for that matter is it the view of the Indians, Russians, and Chinese, all of whom are openly advertising their intention to one day bring the moon’s resources to market… It is only a matter of time before someone makes these resources available for consumption. Preferably, it would be us.”

Noah Rothman, National Review

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