Russia sets its sights on the moon for 2020

Feb 07, 2012 By Amy Shira Teitel, Universe Today
The Moon. Credit: NASA.

Looks like Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich might have some competition if he wants to be the first to build a base on the Moon. Last week, the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos announced plans to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade with a lunar base as its next step.  

After canceling its lunar Zond program in early 1970s, the former Soviet Union took aim elsewhere in space. In 1998, Russia jumped back in the game with Luna Glob, a series of robotic missions to the Moon that could come together to make a lunar orbiting space station or a base on the surface.

Now, Russia’s sights are set on a manned mission. “Man should return to the Moon,” head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. “And not just like in 1969, to leave a mark. We can do important work there.” He lists solar observation among the science goals.

More recently, another opportunity has arisen for Russia to pursue a lunar program. In 2008, NASA proposed the creation of an International Lunar Network, a set of interconnected manned bases scattered over the surface of the Moon. Popovkin said recently that Russia may coordinate with the European Space Agency and join the ILN.

USSR's Zond 3 spacecraft. Credit: NASA.

Russia’s lunar announcement comes on the heels of a bad year for Roscosmos. The agency lost five missions in 2011, including the Phobos-Grunt mission that never reached its target Martian Moon. After months in Earth orbit it fell through the atmosphere earlier this year. This most recent loss might be the spark behind the new push for exploration. “Perhaps, we need a more specific, realistic Moon program, and do any Mars research as a part of a bigger international program,” Anatoliy Davydov, the deputy head of Roscosmos, said in the aftermath of the Phobos-Grunt failure.

But the loss of Phobos-Grunt could anticipate trouble on the Luna Glob missions and any later attempts to reach the Moon. Luna Glob is technologically similar to the failed Mars mission, which means it shares the same vulnerabilities. There will have to be some major changes before Russia can move forward towards the Moon. “The design decisions used on Phobos-Grunt need to be reconsidered and significantly adjusted. Unfortunately, the same ones are used on the lunar missions. This is likely to push back the dates of any future launches, particularly of the Luna Glob modules” said Lev Zelenkin, who is closely involved with both projects.

Another variable in a Russian lunar program is NASA’s possible withdrawal from the ESA-based ExoMars mission. If NASA does pull out, the ESA hopes Roscosmos will step in. Not having NASA’s power and experience on Mars will certainly change the mission, as well Russia’s involvement. The country’s track record on Mars isn’t stellar, and a decision to tempt that galactic ghoul again with another mission to the red planet would likely supercede any Russian missions to the Moon.

If Russia does turn its attention to manned lunar missions and eventually a , anyone will be eligible to go. is looking for volunteer cosmonauts through an X-Factor style search it hopes will rekindle public interest in Russian spaceflight. If you have a scientific or medical degree, are fluent in English, and wear shoes no bigger than a UK size 11, you could be the first cosmonaut to leave a boot print on the lunar surface.

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Xbw
1 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2012
If you have a scientific or medical degree, are fluent in English, and wear shoes no bigger than a UK size 11, you could be the first cosmonaut to leave a boot print on the lunar surface.


Phew I barely fall under that category. The shoes might be a bit tight but I am willing to suffer for lunar exploration.
Temple
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2012
I highly doubt that the next feet on the moon will be borne by a Russian carrier.

Sadly, Roscosmos is a less and less relevant player in the Space industry. Worse, it seems they are only leading the charge with regard to nationalized space programs. I fear that NASA's capabilities are diminishing (just at a much slower rate).

The silver lining is that the private space industry is rushing in to fill the vacuum that the descendancy of the NASA/Roscosmos have created.

We may have a private spaceship docking with the ISS this spring, and that will be just the first baby-step in the new private space-race.

Is it too far-fetched to think I may be able to go into space in my remaining half-century or so? I don't think so, and I'm excited about that.

Xbw
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 07, 2012
@Temple
I agree with your point. I think private space initiative will prevail in the space sector. Companies like Virgin Galactic http://en.wikiped...Galactic and others are leading the way. Even though, for starters, they will only offer short flights through the thermosphere, I think it will generate more public interest in space tourism and ultimately space exploration.
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (7) Feb 07, 2012
Even though, for starters, they will only offer short flights through the thermosphere, I think it will generate more public interest in space tourism and ultimately space exploration.


SpaceX has much bigger plans than that. The Falcon 9 medium rocket (already operational) is capable of reaching geostationary orbits, and the Falcon Heavy (still under developement, but based on the 9) is Moon and Mars capable.

I fear that NASA's capabilities are diminishing (just at a much slower rate).


NASA's human program has diminished but robotic and space-based observatory capabilities are better than ever before. James Webb is a huge gamble, since it is taking such a large piece of the budget, but if they can pull it off it'll be a historic achievement. It'll be cheered if it works and derided if it fails. Tough situation.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2012
"I highly doubt that the next feet on the moon will be borne by a Russian carrier." - Temple

Well, they will either be Russian or Chinese. Both have a good shot at it IMO.