Opinion: India’s moon landing shines an uncomfortable light on Russia’s failures | CNN (2023)

Opinion: India’s moon landing shines an uncomfortable light on Russia’s failures | CNN (1)

On Wednesday India becomeonly the fourth nation to successfully soft-land a probe on the Moon.

Editor’s Note: Leroy Chiao, PhD, works as a consultant, and is the CEO and co-founder ofOne Orbit LLC, a motivational training, education and talent management company. He served as a NASA astronaut from 1990-2005 and flew four missions into space aboard three Space Shuttles – and once as the copilot of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, where he served as the commander during Expedition 10. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.


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There are many reasons why nations create and continue civil space programs. Some hope to advance their civilian efforts in science and technology, others seek to expand their technical workforce, and still others are seeking a way to motivate the next generation of young workers.

Since the dawn of the space race however, the biggest motivation by far has been enhancing the sense of national prestige, at home and internationally.

That’s a big part of what’s driving India, which on Wednesdaybecameonly the fourth nation to successfully soft-land a probe on the Moon.

The milestone marks a huge accomplishment for its nascent space program, which has made steady progress over the years. I expect future success to follow:Delhi has shown it is committedto making significant investments in space exploration efforts.

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At the dawn of the space age,the Soviet Union, which understood only too well how a successful space program could bolster its standing on the national stage, struck first with thelaunch of Sputnik, the first satellite in 1957.

Although it transmitted only a simple beeping signal, the implications of the launch were huge; the SovietUnion could now strike its enemies, including the United States, with nuclear missiles. Moscow followed that breakthrough with others, includingthe first animal in orbit(the dog Laika in 1957)and the first human in space(Yuri Gagarin in 1961).

As Russia notched success after success in space,America was in a near panic.Although the US followed with our own successes, the early impression was that we trailed the Soviets technologically. That’s why President John F. Kennedy’scall to land American astronauts on theMoonresonated so profoundly for our nation, garnering enthusiastic support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as with the American public more broadly.

A view of the moon as viewed by the Chandrayaan-3 lander during Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 5, 2023 in this screengrab from a video released August 6, 2023. ISRO/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. ISRO/Handout/Reuters India becomes the fourth country ever to land a spacecraft on the moon

The race to space was seen as being almost as a war of survival, one which we could not afford to lose.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the latest in a long line of leaders to attempt to use a successful space venture to reflect his nation’s greatness. Putin had hoped this week to bask in the glow of a successful landing of the Russian Luna-25 moon lander.

For extra effect, the Russian president — badly in need of a national prestige win — timed the lunar mission to take place just days ahead of a voyage to the Moonby the rival Indian vehicle, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft.

Russia won the race but lost the game: A malfunction caused Luna-25 tocrash instead of soft-land on the lunar surface.Had it been successful, Luna-25 doubtless would have been touted as “proof” that Russia was still a great nation, despite its setbacks in its disastrous war in Ukraine.(This type of mission is especially difficult because the orbit change maneauvers to land at one of the poles have to be done precisely).

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If these space programs are mirrors of greatness for nations, then it is interesting to more closely examine them. On the rise are the programs of Asia,most notably Chinaand India. Both countries have developed sophisticated cryogenic rocket engines, launchers and spacecraft. Both operate several constellations of satellites for communication, Earth imaging and remote sensing, and Chinahas its own navigation satellite constellation.

China also boasts a human spaceflight programwith an operational space station, including crew and cargo transport spacecraft. Indiahas plans to send its own astronauts into orbit in the next few years, while China has announced plans tosend its astronauts to the lunar surface in the 2030s.

China’s lunar rover is still actively exploring the far side of the Moon,the only country so far to have placed a lander there.

Opinion: India’s moon landing shines an uncomfortable light on Russia’s failures | CNN (4)

Students hold posters as they gather in support of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft in Mumbai on August 22, 2023.

In the International Space Station (ISS) partnership, the US, Europe, Japan and Canada also continue to move forward with space exploration. After years of delay and cost overruns, theArtemis I missionwas finally launched last year and NASA has named theArtemis II crewwhich includes a Canadian astronaut.NASA plans to return humans to the Moon in the coming years, something that hasn’t happened since the last Apollo landing in 1972.

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These countries also continue to launch satellites and other spacecraft. NASA continues, meanwhile, to operate rovers on Mars. And one of the most exciting developments in the West are the partnerships between commercial space companies and NASA.

SpaceX has been a NASA partner for many years, sending supplies and crew to the ISS. They are also developing a lunar lander for NASA, as is a team led by billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Several smaller companies are participating in contracts to provide spacecraftand servicesfor lunar exploration, in what is proving to bearelentlessforwardpush into space on multiple fronts.

Russia is the one exception. Instead of expanding,its space program has been in decline for several years. The once-great program began disintegrating after the fall of the Soviet Union and the downward spiralnowappears to be accelerating. Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev wasstranded on the Mir space station for nearly a yearbecause of the collapse of the SovietUnionand immediate chaos that followed.

Their program was arguably saved by the US, which supported the Mir space station andbrought Russia into what became the ISS program, with cash for services and contracts to produce the core modules and other equipment.

Make no mistake, Russia has also been a key partner in the ISS program. They have provided crew and cargo transportation (including for my crew during Expedition-10), while the Space Shuttle was grounded after theColumbia accident.

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    Until recently, Russian rockets and spacecraft were among the most safe and reliable. But now the future of Russia’s space program is in doubt, amid continuing funding cuts,allegations of corruption(for example, thescandals related to the building of the Vostochny launch complex), politicization (for instance thereign of former Roscosmos director, career-politician Dmitry Rogozin), and the lack of young professionals in their pipeline (the low-paying jobs are not attractive toprospective workers.)

    In recent years, Russia has seen failures of Soyuz and Progress spacecraftand launchers,including the 2018 launch abort of Soyuz MS-10 which hadUS astronaut Nick Hague onboard. Luna-25 is just the latest in a string of failures. Thankfully, none of these has yet resulted in any deaths or injuries.


    Russia’s bedraggled space program mirrors the state of the nation itself, including thesurprisingly poor performance of the Russian military in its war on Ukraine. Instead of making his nation a “great power” again, Putin has shown the world just how badly Russia is in decline.

    The lamentable state of Moscow’s space program is just the latest confirmation of that.


    Why did India's moon mission fail? ›

    India's previous attempt to land a robotic spacecraft near the moon's little-explored south pole ended in failure in 2019. It entered the lunar orbit but lost touch with its lander, which crashed while making its final descent to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

    Which moon mission failed in India? ›

    Accomplished with a budget of about 6.15 billion rupees ($75 million), this was India's second attempt to touch down on the moon. A previous mission in 2019, Chandrayaan-2, successfully deployed an orbiter but its lander crashed.

    Was Chandrayaan 2 a success or failure? ›

    "And the failure of Chandrayaan-2 was used for the success of Chandrayaan-3. Or we can say we used that failure in our favour. In that way, they (ISRO scientists) have clearly done a wonderful job. We were confident before the launch itself that it (Chandrayaan-3) would be a success.

    Why did India land on the moon? ›

    The Indian Space Research Organization wanted to prove it could land a lander softly at the south pole of the moon. No nation has ever done this.

    Is India successful in Moon Mission? ›

    India successfully lands a spacecraft near the moon's south pole, making it the first country to do so. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the mission's success “belongs to all of humanity”.

    Which space mission failed in India? ›

    And in September, India sent its own Vikram lander down to the surface of the Moon – but it did not survive the landing. NASA later released an image taken by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the site of the Vikram lander's impact.

    What moon mission went wrong? ›

    Apollo 13 FAQs

    Yes, though the mission failed to reach the moon, Apollo 13 made it back to Earth successfully and the whole crew — commander James Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise, and command module pilot John "Jack" Swigert — survived.

    Which moon mission failed? ›

    The destruction of the robotic Luna-25 probe, which crashed onto the surface of the moon over the weekend, reflects the endemic problems that have dogged the Russian space industry since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

    How many people from India have gone to moon? ›

    Answer and Explanation: Unfortunately, the number of Indian astronauts or vyomanauts that have landed on the moon is zero. The first vyomanaut, Rakesh Sharma, was sent into space on the Russian spaceflight Soyuyz T-11 in April 1984.

    Which country successfully landed on moon? ›

    With the historic achievement, India became the very first nation in the world to achieve a lunar landing in the Moon's enigmatic south polar region, and the fourth country to successfully land a rover on the Moon, after the United States, Russia, and China.

    What was the main reason for the failure of Chandrayaan-2? ›

    According to a failure analysis report submitted to ISRO, the crash was caused by a software glitch. ISRO then re-attempted a lunar landing with Chandrayaan-3, which was launched on 14 July 2023 at Satish Dhawan space centre, Sriharikota by LMV3.

    Is Chandrayaan-2 alive? ›

    In September 2019, crores of Indians and thousands of others from across the world following Chandrayaan-2, were left disappointed after Isro could not complete the landing mission successfully, even as its orbiter is still very much alive and sending data.

    Is India first country to land on moon? ›

    India became the fourth country to land on the moon and the first on the south pole.

    How much did it cost India to land on the moon? ›

    Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of India's moon landing is the shoestring budget — by government standards — with which the country achieved the mission. In 2020, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) estimated the Chandrayaan-3 mission would cost about $75 million.

    How much did it cost for India to go to the moon? ›

    India's budget of around $74 million for the successful landing of a spacecraft on the Moon was less than half of the price tag for Hollywood blockbuster "Interstellar." Manish Purohit explains how his country pulled off this historic feat.

    Why did the Apollo 13 mission fail? ›

    The Apollo 13 malfunction was caused by an explosion and rupture of oxygen tank no. 2 in the service module. The explosion ruptured a line or damaged a valve in the no. 1 oxygen tank, causing it to lose oxygen rapidly.

    Was Chandrayaan-3 successful? ›

    Chandrayaan-3's Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover on Wedenesday made a successful soft touchdown on the lunar South Pole.

    Which two Apollo missions failed Why did they fail? ›

    Two Apollo missions were failures: a 1967 cabin fire killed the entire Apollo 1 crew during a ground test in preparation for what was to be the first crewed flight; and the third landing attempt on Apollo 13 was aborted by an oxygen tank explosion en route to the Moon, which disabled the CSM Odyssey's electrical power ...


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