The Russian space agency’s Sayuz 2.1 rocket lifted off in the early hours of the morning to carry a probe to the Moon.

This is the first Russian mission to the Earth’s satellite in almost 50 years.

The rocket carrying Luna-25 lifted off as scheduled at 02:10 [σ.σ. ώρα Μόσχας και ώρα Ελλάδας] from the Vastochni Cosmodrome, 5,500 kilometers east of the capital in the Russian Far East, captured footage that was relayed live by the Russian space agency, ROSCOSMOS.

The rocket rose into the gray sky in a puff of smoke and flames. It is expected to enter lunar orbit within five days, and then it will take three to seven days to select a suitable landing site in the region of the Moon’s south pole.

According to an AFP source at ROSCOSMOS, the agency expects the probe to land on the moon from August 21 to 23.

Luna-25, expected to stay on the Moon for a month, is tasked with collecting soil samples, “analyzing” them and also doing “long-term scientific research,” the Russian space agency explained.

The launch is the first of Russia’s new lunar exploration program, which begins with ROSCOSMOS no longer having partners in the West amid the war with Ukraine.

This is Russia’s first mission to the Moon since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The previous one took place in 1976, when the USSR still existed, a pioneer country in terms of conquering space.

It is extremely important for Russia’s space research sector, which is suffering from a lack of funding and corruption scandals and is facing increasingly intense competition — from the US, China, India, as well as private companies such as Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

For centuries, astronomers have wondered whether water exists on the Moon, which is described as a hundred times drier than the Sahara desert. Maps from NASA, the American space agency, released in 2018 indicated the presence of ice on the dark side of the moon, and in 2020 the same source confirmed that there is water in its areas illuminated by the sun.