by Alissa de Carbonnel
September 11, 2012
plans to build a base on the moon.
Photograph by: Muhammad Hamed , REUTERS
Russia should set itself the "super
goal" of building a large base on the Moon it could use to achieve
"leaps" in science and to give a new sense of purpose to its
troubled space program, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin
said on Tuesday.
Calling the task "big, prestigious and political", Rogozin said the
country's space industry - which has suffered a string of costly and
embarrassing failures - urgently needed a tangible stimulus to force
it to focus.
"There is a lot of competition among
countries in the space sector and so we must have a big super
goal that could pull forward science and industry; that would
enable the country to escape from the morass of problems, which
have kept us captive for the past 20 years," Rogozin told the
Vesti FM radio station.
"Why not try to build a big station on the Moon that would be a
base for future 'leaps' of science?".
Russia's renewed focus on the Moon may
reflect a scaling back of ambition following a string of space
failures and comes as other countries - notably China - are eyeing
the Moon with greater ambition.
Beijing plans to land its first probe
there next year even though it still has a long way to go to catch
up with space superpowers Russia and the United States.
Scientists have said the Moon may hold reserves of water and
suggested various minerals could possibly be mined there.
The Soviet Union put the first satellite and the first man in space,
but those glory days are a distant memory. Crimped budgets and a
brain drain mean Moscow has long been absent from deep space and its
space program appears to be in trouble.
Last year, a Russian mission failed to return samples from
Martian moon Phobos, and last month
the failure of a Proton rocket caused the multi million-dollar loss
of Indonesia's Telkom-3 and Russia's Express-MD2 satellites.
"We are losing our authority and
billions of roubles," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told
officials at a government meeting last month.
Roskosmos, Russia's space agency, has
previously floated the idea of a Moon base - possibly built in
collaboration with the United States and Europe - and has also
spoken of the option of constructing a space station that would
orbit the Moon.
It is planning to send two unmanned missions to the Moon by 2020 and
there have been reports that it is weighing a manned mission there
Russian scientists and cosmonauts have suggested lunar colonizers
could take shelter in what they believe is a network of underground
caves left by the Moon's volcanic past.
"It's too far and too expensive to
Mars," space industry expert Igor Lissov told the state RIA news
agency. "We must start with the moon. We must give ourselves
Rogozin said the Moon project could be a
jumping-off point for future deep space projects.
Space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said on Monday that
Russia would recall the rocket type which caused the multi-million
dollar loss of Indonesian and Russian telecom satellites last month.
Such failures for Russia, which conducts some 40 percent of global
space launches, risk undermining its standing in the market,
strengthening competitors such as Europe's Ariane rocket.