The “major embarrassment” of the crash of Russia’s Luna 25 into the Moon last weekend had helped place Vladimir Putin into a “dangerous position”.
This is the assessment of economic geographer Professor John Bryson of the University of Birmingham, who says that the spacecraft’s loss is the latest in a string of failures that are undermining the “incompetent” leader’s standing at home and on the international stage.
Launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East on August 11, Luna 25 had been envisaged as a demonstration — as the State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, put it — that Russia is “a state capable of delivering a payload to the Moon.”
It was also carrying various instruments that would have allowed it to photograph the lunar surface, collect geological samples and conduct other scientific measurements.
However, contact with the mission was lost last Saturday morning, with Roscosmos announcing the next day that the craft had “ceased to exist”.
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Prof. Bryson told Daily Express US: “President Putin suffers from a distorted sense of reality — as he considers that Russia remains a great superpower, when the reality is very different.
“Russia is a former superpower and is a country that is on a trajectory that is more aligned with North Korea or Iran, rather than the US or even China.
“Part of Putin’s distorted sense of reality is his belief that Russia can compete in the new space race. Unfortunately for Putin, this ambition has been shown to be little more than a dream with the failure of the Luna 25 mission.
“There are many reasons for this failure, but these include Russia’s severance from global supply chains, combined with on-going failure to successfully conclude Putin’s ‘special Ukraine operation’.”
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Prof. Bryson continued: “Putin has a major problem. His position within Russia and his international standing is continually being eroded by his own incompetence.”
The invasion of Ukraine and now the loss of Luna 25, the geographer explained, both represent prominent blots on Putin’s copybook.
He added: “It is dangerous for a political leader in Putin’s position to develop a reputation for a stream of failures.”
For Prof. Bryson, Putin’s failures stem from a combination of poor decision-making and his failure to adequately invest in Russia’s economic infrastructure.
Vladimir Putin, he explained, appears to be operating on an outmoded sense of statecraft founded on territorial conquest, rather than on economic and scientific prowess.
Prof. Bryson quipped: “Instead of over-investing in weapons of mass destruction, Putin should have been investing in Russia’s economic, scientific, and education infrastructure.”
“Putin’s political legacy will be one of 20 years of Russian under-development. The failure of the Luna 25 mission is a major embarrassment for Putin, and he needs to take responsibility.”
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Yesterday, meanwhile, Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov moved to place the blame a little further back in time.
He said: “Interrupting the lunar programme for almost 50 years is the main reason for the failure [of the Luna 25 mission].
“The invaluable experience that our predecessors accumulated in the 1960s and 1970s was practically lost.”
Russia last landed a probe on the Moon — Luna 24 — back in 1976. After this, their focus shifted away from lunar exploration in favor of the construction of the Mir space station and sending more “Venera” probes off to study Venus.
Mr Borisov went on to advocate for Roscosmos’ continued pursuit of lunar exploration, suggesting that a termination of the programme would be “the worst decision”.
Speaking to Russian state news agency TASS, Mr Borisov also revealed more specifics about the spacecraft’s malfunction.
He attributed the “main cause” of the crash to engines over-firing on Saturday during a course correction intended to put the craft in its pre-landing orbit.
Mr Borisov said: “Unfortunately, the thruster shutdown did not occur normally in accordance with the cyclogram, but under a time cutoff — and it operated for 127 seconds instead of 84.”
(In this context, a “cyclogram” is equivalent to a flight plan for the operation of the spacecraft’s thrusters.)
It was less than an hour after this maneuver went awry — at 2:57 PM MSK (7:57AM ET) — that ground control lost contact with the Luna 25 spacecraft.
Luna 25 is understood to have made two similar course corrections en route to the Moon without issue.
According to TASS, the command sent to the engines was “numerously tested on a ground-based simulator before it was uploaded” to Luna 25.
Mr Borisov said that a special commission has been established to investigate what went wrong during the third maneuver.
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