Russia Wants to Put a Person on the Moon Over Half a Century After Losing Space Race

Russia has sparked speculation over its lunar ambitions after its space agency put out to tender a request for a feasibility study into a manned mission to the moon.

Roscosmos published a document on the country's state procurement website calling for a study into how such a mission to Earth's neighbor might work.

Moscow was behind the launch of the first manmade object to orbit the Earth, Sputnik 1 in 1957. The United States' Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon, on July 20, 1969, effectively winning the so-called space race.

While there are many Soviet and Russian space achievements, such as the first successful flyby of the moon with Luna 1 and Luna 2 being the first human artifact to reach it, Russia has never put a human on the surface of the natural satellite.

The tender by Roscosmos calls for research into what would be required in terms of rocket and space technology to ensure "the reliable implementation of manned flights to the moon."

The study needed to look at how cosmonauts would work in orbit and on the Moon's surface, "taking into account the need to solve medical and biological problems," said the tender, which was reported by Russian media, including RIA.

The study would look into how to develop a lunar take-off and landing vehicle for crew and creating a spacesuit that can be worn on the surface. It also required plans to construct a lunar rover, and how to construct a ship for delivering cargo.

The Russian space agency also indicated in the tender it would use the Angara rocket and a small transport ship for its first manned flights to the Moon.

Angara had been touted as the means for Russia's moon ambitions in December 2020 by the director general of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. The heavier Yenisei rocket had been previously considered for such a mission, Kommersant reported.

The feasibility study under the contract worth 1.7 billion rubles ($23 million) is divided into two parts. The first results need to be presented by the end of 2022 and the whole study by mid-November 2025.

The contract up for grabs marks a statement of intent for Roscosmos, which had announced in March it had signed a memorandum with China to build an international scientific lunar station.

The proposed joint International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) is intended to be ready for crewed visits by 2036 and is not linked to the U.S.-led Artemis program.

"The big thing is not so much Russia wanting to go to the moon, but Russia wanting to go to the moon with China," said Leonard David, author of Moon Rush: The New Space Race, "Russia needs China more than China needs Russia."

David said Russia's progress towards a manned mission to the Moon will be shaped by its Luna 25 program. The automatic lunar station whose launch had been scheduled for October, has been delayed to May 2022.

"The Luna 25 is an indicator that things are not smooth sailing and this is their first lunar robotic mission for decades," he told Newsweek.

"They want that to be successful to show that they can do it and get back to the moon. If it succeeds, it will bolster their engineering and science community.

"They are going to have to show their stuff. Part of it could be that they feel like they are going to be left at the launch pad as everybody is going to the Moon," David said, referring to private sector plans as well NASA projects like the Lunar Gateway, which is expected to play a major role in the Artemis program.

Regarding Russia's space expertise, David said, "their science side is never lacking, they have great researchers, they can analyze the data, there is no doubt about that.

"I am not cynical, but I am cautiously optimistic that they can pull this off," he said, "with Russia it is wait and see."

Image of the Moon
A super blood moon is seen during a total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Russia's space agency has put for tender a study into the feasibility of a manned moon mission. Cameron Spencer/Getty