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Russian Space Agency Irked By Moon Program Debate

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by Staff Writers
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 18, 2007
The Russian Federal Space Agency said Thursday it was unpleasantly surprised by an ongoing media debate over the country's Moon exploration program, sparked by statements made a week ago by a top space industry official. Russian media have said in recent days that both Russia and the United States have new ambitious Moon exploration plans for the coming decades, including building a permanent habitable base, and allowing tourists to buy flights to the earth's satellite.

During a news conference on January 11, Nikolai Sevastyanov, the head of the Russian spacecraft manufacturer Energia, had said: "Our motto is 'toward Mars with a stop at the Moon'." The official reaffirmed the country's plans to launch an unmanned flight to the Earth's satellite in 2011-2012, and a manned expedition to Mars in 2025-2030.

However, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency distanced himself Thursday from Sevastyanov's comments, criticizing him for portraying mere technical ideas as national strategy.

"It is very unfortunate when untested technical ideas, which are a long way from accepted technical solutions and technologies, are presented by the head of the country's leading spacecraft manufacturer, as if they were a national space exploration strategy adopted by the Russian leadership," Igor Panarin said.

The space official said the Federal Space Agency and other bodies are still working on a national program for the development of the space industry, including in the sphere of manned space flights, but that it would be premature to announce any concrete plans at this point.

"It is too early to speak about concrete decisions at the state level concerning exploration of the Moon or other planets," Panarin said.

The head of the space agency, Anatoly Perminov, had said in December last year that Russia will finalize its space exploration strategy until 2040 at some point during 2007, and that the agency would not join the U.S. in its Moon program, but would develop its own unmanned exploration techniques.

The United States is the only country to have put people on the Moon. Neil Armstrong was memorably the first in 1969, and five other missions followed him until the lunar program was wrapped up in 1972.

The head of spacecraft manufacturer Energia first mentioned Russia's ambitious Moon exploration project in August last year.

"The Energia Rocket and Space Corporation plans to explore the Moon in three stages: a Soyuz spacecraft flight to the Moon (in 2011-2012), the construction of a permanent base on the Moon (until 2025), and the industrial exploration of space around the Earth's satellite," Sevastyanov said at the 5th Airspace Congress in the Russian capital.

He said then the main goals of lunar exploration would be to conduct astrophysical research from its surface, to transfer environmentally unfriendly industries from Earth to the Moon, and to extract raw materials, including helium-3, to meet increasing energy demand on Earth.

Helium-3 is a rare earth metal, believed to be abundant on the Moon, and is used in nuclear power reactors as well as being a conductor. It is also used in microchip and related technologies.

Russia is planning to use a modernized version of the Soyuz manned spacecraft, the workforce of the Russian space fleet, for the flights to the Moon, Sevastyanov said, adding that the first spacecraft would be ready in 2010.

"Energia has started the development of a modernized Soyuz spacecraft," Sevastyanov said.

"New digital technologies will be used during the development and operation of the new spacecraft," he said. "Besides, the new space vehicle will be able to conduct flights not only to the International Space Station, but also to the Moon."

Sevastyanov also said the first flight to Mars would be conducted after 2025. The expedition will use the Russian-made Clipper shuttle with a four-man crew and will last two-and-a-half years, he said.

Source: RIA Novosti

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Moon May Be More Like Earth Than Thought
Knoxville TN (UPI) Jan 18, 2007
A U.S. astronomer says a new moon-rock study suggests the satellite has an iron core and might be more like the Earth than thought. Larry Taylor, director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee, told National Geographic News the findings add weight to the theory the moon formed from debris thrown off when a Mars-size object collided with a young Earth.

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