A space race is underway as the Moon has become a top “political target”.
India, Japan, the US and Russia are all competing to be top dog on the satellite.
This month India became the first nation to touch down an unmanned craft on the Moon’s south pole.
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It hopes to find water to help create a lunar base from which missions to deep space could be launched.
Russia – which scrambled a rocket in a desperate bid to beat India – came a cropper when its Luna-25 spacecraft crashed on the Moon’s surface.
Japan will launch its own lunar mission on Monday, August 28.
In November, NASA will send astronauts into lunar orbit for the first time since 1972.
It hopes to put men on the Moon again in 2025 – and establish a 'lunar gateway’ space station from which astronauts can be shuttled to the surface.
The US space agency wants to build permanent Moon bases where scientists and geologists can work and from which missions can be launched to Mars and beyond.
Neil Bowles, professor of planetary science at Oxford University, said: “The Moon has become a destination again.
“It is seen as a political target. “
But it’s also a very interesting scientific target in its own right.
“And of course it could become a staging place for other places in the solar system later on," he added.
As India’s Vikram lander touched down, the nation’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed it a 'success for all of humanity'.
Scientists in Bangalore cheered 'long live India' and schoolchildren were lined up to tell broadcasters how proud they were to come from the new space pioneer.
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India is the fourth country to complete a controlled landing on the moon successfully – following America, the Soviet Union and China. But a flurry of other missions are hot on their heels.
Chris Scott, professor of space and atmospheric physics at Reading University, said the inspirational impact of seeing astronauts step out into space should not be dismissed.
“The Apollo missions were certainly the reason I studied space science,’’ he said.
“I assumed we would all be living on the moon when I grew up.’’
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