Monday, September 21, 2015


More than 40 years have passed since any human has walked on the moon, and all of them were American.
Russia has some grand plans to change that as the US turns its attention to Mars.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, wants to set up a high-tech lunar base, complete with human habitats, science and tech labs, a launching and landing port for spacecraft, and even an astronomy observatory.
The moon and Roscosmos have a complicated past. During the Apollo-era space race, the former Soviet Union landed robotic rovers on the moon — but a series of rocket failures and explosions halted progress on any human-carrying missions. Eventually, Roscosmos decided its moon program wasn't worth the money and the risk and shut it down.
But now Roscosmos is reviving that program and sending a robotic spacecraft, called Luna 25, to the moon to do some scouting for a future lunar base. The agency has announced that it will land Luna 25 on the moon's south pole in 2024.
Engineers are already building the spacecraft, and the finished product will carry eight cameras to help it navigate, take pictures, and keep an eye on its drill tool as it digs into the lunar surface.
Here's a model of what the spacecraft will look like:
The Luna 25 spacecraft will run its electronics using a battery fueled by a radioactive material called plutonium-238. As the plutonium-238 naturally decays it generates heat, and the battery converts the heat into electricity.
Plutonium-238 is pretty much impossible to turn into a nuclear weapon, according to theEnvironmental Protection Agency. It's also not the kind of dangerous, skin-piercing radiation that humans have to worry about (unless it gets inside our lungs).
Lots of spacecraft are powered this way, but the world is quickly running out of Plutonium-238. Space agencies will need to come up with another fuel source soon — unless Russia has a secret reserve of the valuable stuff, or some way of making it.


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