Russia is planning a massive increase in its space launches and may even build a base on the moon as part of a manned mission to Mars in the next two decades, according to reports.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his country's plans go well beyond transporting crews to the International Space Station. With a 2010-2011 space budget estimated at 200 billion rubles ($7.09 billion), Russia is the world's fourth-largest spender on space after U.S. space agency NASA, the European Space Agency and France, Reuters reports.
"Russia should not limit itself to the role of an international space ferryman. We need to increase our presence on the global space market," Putin is quoted as having said at his residence outside Moscow. The meeting was planned specifically to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering space flight.
Other reports cite official documents which claim a manned Russian mission to Mars could be possible in 2030 following the creation of a moon base. "Above all, we are talking about flights to the moon and the creation of a base close to its north pole where there is likely to be a source of water," read one of the documents, according to the Telegraph.
Russian scientists are also said to have touted the moon as a potential source of energy, saying it contains large reserves of helium 3, a sought-after isotope that may be the key to a new way of generating power.