November 25, 2004

Russia Plans Mars Moon Mission

UDAIPUR, India (AFP) -- Russia's space program is unlikely to launch a planetary mission before 2009 because of cash shortages, a top scientist told AFP.

The unmanned mission will aim to land on Phobos, a moon orbiting Mars, and a mission to the Earth's Moon is unlikely in the near future, said Eric Galimov, planetologist and director of the V.I. Vernandsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"We were thinking of a moon mission, named Lunar Globe Programme, way back in 1997," Galimov told AFP on the sidelines of a seminar on lunar exploration in this north Indian city.

"But the government told us to send only one mission. We decided to select Phobos for 2005, but now it is delayed and 2009 is a distinct possibility."

Galimov said a mission to the Earth's moon is unlikely any time soon.

"Of course, the direct reason is lack of funds and the indirect reason is lack of sufficient attention to the development of science in our country."

Russia was the first nation to complete a moon orbit in 1959. But since 1996 it has not launched a single planetary mission, compared with 21 by the United States and five by the European Space Agency.

"The country went through a difficult period of political, social and economic transition. The selection of priorities is debatable but science was not the first priority," Galimov said.

"As far as scientists are concerned we still have a problem of good salary. This is why we have difficulty in attracting the young generation. The support from the government is ridiculously low," he said.

Galimov said Russia in the near future could offer its space expertise to help other nations such as India, which is considering a lunar probe.

"Russia has the experience and through cooperation one can cut costs and reduce time," he said.


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NASA's Mars Exploration Program