The race to be the first to land on the moon with a human crew in the 21st century (so far only the Americans have walked on the surface of the moon, for the first time in 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission), is now mainly between the United States and China. The traditional competitor of the Americans, Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union, has practically dropped out of the space race.
This happened after the failed mission of the Russian Luna-25 module. In August of this year, it literally crashed uncontrollably onto the surface of the Earth’s natural satellite when it lost contact with the control center. According to Reuters, this is a visible post-Soviet decline of the once prestigious space program.
From Sputnik and Gagarin to the fiasco
Thus, the Russian return to the moon after 47 years (in 1976 Luna-24 landed on the moon, collected rock samples and returned to Earth) ended in fiasco. At the same time, in the last century, the Kremlin caught the White House and the rest of the world by surprise already in 1957, when it launched the artificial satellite Sputnik into orbit. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space four years later.
The largest country in the world, which has been at war in Ukraine for almost two years, has now overtaken even India with the Chandrayan-3 spacecraft and the Pragyan lunar rover.
Russian scientists blame incompetent managers of the space program, widespread corruption and the decline of Russian space know-how for the failure.
America believes in private equity
Just for comparison, the US GDP is worth 25,463 billion dollars, the Russian economy is only 2,240 billion dollars, that is, eleven times less. In the case of the United States, the private sector also plays a vital role in the innovation and financing of the prestigious space program.
The companies of two American multi-billionaires – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – are most visibly involved in it. The founder of Tesla and Space X has assets of $220 billion, while the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin has $160.6 billion (status of the Forbes ranking as of 2.11. 2023, note ed.).
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Both space companies have received contracts from the American NASA and are participating in the American Artemis mission, which aims to return a human crew to the moon in 2025. In the following years, a permanent base is to be established there, which will be used for further exploration and conquest of space.
Bezos to the Moon, Musk to Mars
Bezos’ company Blue Origin presented the Blue Moon Mark1 lunar module as part of the Artemis program at the end of October. In it, he plans to gradually test the technologies intended for the next version with a human crew.
This module will be able to deliver three tons of cargo to the surface of the moon. It should primarily serve to build lunar logistics, infrastructure and support other scientific projects on the surface of the Moon.
Bezos’ Blue Origin also expects that their device will be able to produce propellant fuels, i.e. liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, from ice directly on the moon.
At the same time, Blue Origin is only one of 14 private American companies that cooperate on the Artemis program in preparation for landing on the moon. Blue Origin’s head of lunar missions, Benjamin Cichy, announced that the company will build two Mark 1 lunar landers.
They are to be launched into space by New Glenn rockets. This will be followed by the production of the Mark 2 module, which will also be used for a human crew, said John Couluris from Blue Origin.
NASA chief: We’ll settle the moon and then Mars
NASA required the module to be able to land within a hundred meters of a predetermined location. Blue Origin engineers are working to ensure that the deviation from the planned location is only a few meters.
NASA chief Bill Nelson said in an address to Bezos’ modules that in the future they will ensure permanent transportation of astronauts to the moon so that they “can live and work there before we go to Mars.”
In the case of Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, the successful testing of Super Heavy launch vehicles with the Starship ship, which is supposed to enable people to fly to Mars, is crucial.
The Super Heavy rocket is the most powerful launch vehicle in the history of cosmonautics. It has a total of 33 engines of the Raptor type, which is also being developed by SpaceX. The fuel is liquid methane, the oxidizer is liquid oxygen.
The rocket exploded. Still, it’s a success
For the first time, both stages (Super Heavy as the first and Starship as the second, which measures a total of 121 meters) took off this April from the Texas spaceport of Musk’s company, Boca Chica. Four minutes into the flight, however, there was an explosion.
Employees of Musk’s company celebrated the launch itself and the several-minute flight. So far, the development and testing of the Starship project has cost around five billion dollars.
Despite the failure, experts consider this test a success. “Success reflects what we have learned. The test will help us improve Starship reliability as SpaceX strives to make life multiplanetary,” SpaceX wrote.
In the case of another test, the statement of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which examines the risks of rocket launches to the public, is awaited. However, it also assesses the impact on their health and property.
NASA is also impatiently waiting for the approval of further tests, as the Artemis III mission (landing on the moon with astronauts in the south pole region of the moon) was originally expected to take place by the end of 2025.
And we mustn’t forget the Asian countries striving for space, led by China. At the same time, it sent its first astronaut into space only 20 years ago. After two decades, China has become a major space power, reflecting its growing economic, political and military ascendancy on Earth.
Last year, the Chinese completed Tiangong, Chinese for “Heavenly Palace,” which will apparently take over the role of the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit. Four years ago, China landed on the far side of the moon, where it wants to send its astronauts by the end of the decade. And this country will also strive to build an international lunar research station.
In addition, as the US has recently sought to break free from its dependence on Chinese products and cut off this country from Western technology, China is looking elsewhere for cooperation. In October this year, it signed an initial memorandum of cooperation with Pakistan and Azerbaijan.
India, the world’s most populous country, has been gaining ground in the space game in recent years. The last few years have convinced us that India is not a small player in the space arena and we can expect great things from it.